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Full text of "Mind's Eye: A Liberal Arts Journal 2007"

2007 

Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arcs Journal Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 




Special LtJiie: 

The Shaping Role of Place in 
African- American Biography 

$7.50 



Mind's Eye 

A Liberal Arts Journal 



2007 



Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 



Editorial Board 

Frances jones-Sneed, Guest Editor 
Bill Montgomery, Managing Editor 
Robert Bence 
Bob Bishoff 
Harold Brotzman 
Sumi Colligaii 
Abbot Cutler 
Tony Gengarelly 
Steve Green 
Leon Petets 
Gta/.iana Ramsden 

Arlcne Bouras, Copy Editor 

Advisory Board 

James MaeGregor Butns, ftofessor of history and political science, 
University of Maryland 
Stephen Fix, Professor of English. Williams College 
Thomas Green, Professor of law and history. University of Michigan 
Mary Huber, Carnegie Foundation scholar 
Lea Newman, Professor of English emerita, Massachusetts College of liberal Arts 
Joseph Thompson, Director ofMASSMoCA 

© 2007 The Mind's Eye 
ISSN 1098-0512 

http://www.mcla.mass.edti/Publications/ 
Faculty_Publkations/The_Minds_.Eye_spr 

The Mind's Eye, a journal of scholarly and creative work, is published annually by 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. While emphasizing articles of scholarly merit, The 
Mind's Eye focuses on a genetal communication of ideas of interest to a liberal arts college. 
We welcome expository essays, including reviews, as well as fiction, poetry and art. Please 
refer to the inside back cover for a list of writer's guidelines. 

A yearly subscription to '/he Mind's Eye is $7.50. Send check or money order to The 
Mind's Eye, CIO Bill Montgomery, Massachusetts College of Liberal Aits, 375 Church 
Street, North Adams, MA 01247. 



2 The Mind's Eye 



Mind's Eye 

2007 

Editors File 4 

The Invention of Place in the Du Boisian Canon 
By David Levering Lewis 6 

Muddy Waters: W, E. B. Du Boss and the Commemorative 
Controversy over His Hometown's Symbolic Landscape 
By Constance N. Brooks 16 

Transforming Space into Time: Narratives of Place in 
The Souls of Black Folk 
By David J. Langston + 31 

Desegtegating the City of Brotherly Love: Raymond Pace Alexander 
and the Civil Rights Struggle in Philadelphia 
By David A. Canton 42 

Searching for Ambrose: Genealogy, Biography and African-American 
Place in the Historical Narrarive 
By Dina Mayo-Bobee 55 

The Life and Death of William Meadows: Local Government 
Documents as Sources for Biography 
By Jan Vbogd 65 

"Like Limbs from a Tree": Home and Homeland in Caryl Phillips 
Crossing the River 
By Khaliah Mangrum 73 

An Appeal to the Citizens of Academe: Why David Walker and Nat 
Turner Belong in the Classroom 
By Mark R. Chearhcm 82 

Contributors and Abstracts 88 



The Mind', Eye 3 



Editor's File 



Special Issue: 

The Shaping Role of Place in 
African-American Biography 

This special issue of The Mind's Eye includes selected papers from the na- 
tional conference held in North Adams at Massachusetts College of Lib- 
eral Arts (MCLA) in September 2006 to showcase the 18-month K-12 
curriculum-development project funded by the National Endowment for 
the Humanities (NEH), "The Shaping Role of Place in African-American Biography." 
Richard A. Courage, professor of English, "Westchester Community College in New 
York, and Frances Jones-Sneed, professor of histoty at MCLA, codirecced the projecr 
along with Roselle Chartoch, professor of education at MCI.A; Donald Pecor, instruc- 
tor of history ar MCLA and director of curriculum at Drury High School in North 
Adams; and Clauderre Webster, curriculum specialist for elementary grades from Cha- 
tham, New York. There were also more than 20 local and national scholars who joined 
us. The project Web site can be viewed at www.mcla.edu/aab. An African-American 
rraii guide, The African American Heritage of the Upper Housatonic Valley, edited by Da- 
vid Levinson, Rachel Fletcher, Frances Jones-Sneed, Bernard Drew and Elaine Gunn, 
will give you additional details about African-Americans in the area. Also, there is a 
Website detailing the efforts of the Upper Housatonic African-American Ttail at www. 
uhvafarnrrail.org/. 

We believe that the project can be emulated in any community in the country. 
'Ihe scholars' papers use place as a model to discuss African-Americans in various com- 
munities. A full roster of presenters and theit topics is given at the end of the journal. 



4 'the Mind's Eye 



Editor's File 



We are also pleased to include the keynote address given at the conference by the 
distinguished New York University history professor David Levering Lewis on "The 
Invention of Place in the Du Boisian Canon/' Constance N. Brooks's article, ''Muddy 
Waters: W E. B. Du Bois arid the Commemorative Controversy over His Hometowns 
Symbolic Landscape," examines a recent controversy in Great Barrington, Massachu- 
setts, about public commemoration of native son W. E. B. Du Bois. David A. Canton's 
"Desegregating the City of Brotherly Love: Raymond Pace Alexander and die Civil 
Rights Struggle in Philadelphia" discusses Raymond Pace Alexander (1898?— 1974), 
who was a prominent New Negro lawyer, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the 
first African-American judge on the Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia. Mark R. 
Cheathem, in "An Appeal to the Citizens of Academe: Why David Walker and Nat 
Turner Belong in the Classroom," offers a much-needed rationale for including David 
Walker and Nat Turner in the history classroom, as well as including them as part of 
the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. David J. Lang- 
sron, in "Transforming Space into Time: Narratives of Place in The Souls 0/ Black Folk," 
develops the notion of place to include complex, transformativc> historical events, such 
as education, voting and social integration, not as symbols for permanent values but as 
ones ro which each place must bear witness so as to enable freedmen's sons and daugh- 
ters to he recognized on American soil. Khaliah Mangrums "'Like Limbs from a Tree': 
Home and Homeland in Caryl Phillips' Crossing the River" critiques Caryl Phillips 
novel that shows the distinction between home and homeland and analyzes the politics 
of space. Dinah Mayo-Bobees "Searching for Ambrose: Genealogy, Biography and Af- 
rican-American Place in the Historical Narrative" examines the process of reconstruct- 
ing personal histories and placing them in the context of significant historical events 
through the lives of Ambrose McCaskill (1844-1920), a subsistence farmer born in 
antebellum South Carolina, and his descendants. Jan Voogd explores the murder of 
William Meadows, a former slave and a representative to Louisiana's Constitutional 
Convention in 1868, and the attention the Louisiana General Assembly devoted to 
it in her paper "The Life and Death of William Meadows: Local Government Docu- 
ments as Sources for Biography." 

Frances Jones -Sneed, Ph.D. (University of Missouri), is a professor of history 
at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She cochairs rhe Upper Housaronic 




The Minds Eye 5 



The Invention of Place in 
the Du Boisian Canon 

BY DAVID LEVERING LEWIS 



The influential 19th-century French literary critic and philosopher Hippolyte 
Taine (1828-1893} stipulated that there are three causal factors to explain 
narinnal hehavior: rare* time and place. Taine rested this explanatory rrilogy 
on the Anglo-Saxons with what appeared to be scientific precision in his grand mid- 
tivolume monograph, The History of English Literature. Although race came to hold 
for W. E. B. Du Bois a connotation more cultural than Faines essentialized concept, 
the great social critic for whom the color line was the century's overriding problem 
never entirely abandoned his belief in the unique innateness of the African- American 
persona. He would always claim for people of color in the United States a special 
sensibility shaped by a unique group experience in a discrete matrix — race at a place 
in rime, in other words. 

In later Du Boisian meditations nourished by Marxist analysis, race ceded primacy 
to class, as in the magisterial Black Reconstruction in America and the autobiographical 
Dusk of Dawn, wherein African- American uniqueness was distinguished by a historic 
commitment to and powerful fostering of authentic democracy for everybody Black 
folk were cast as the natural democrats of the American experience. They were the avatars of 
the just society, the organic force behind a decent respect for universal rights in me modern 
industrial world. "No group of civilized people have better opportunity to forward the 
advance of human culture than American Negroes" Du Bois asserted at the end of World 
War Two. 

Whether Du Bois offeted race or nurtute to explain the Aft i can -American pres- 
ence, he embedded first one and then the other in descriptions of place and time of 
a matchless density and richness. As with Hippolyte Taine, a superlative academic 
ttaining enabled Du Bois — historian, sociologist and, yes, journalist — to resurrect 
a particular environment, milieu, place with a seeming verisimilitude that almost 



6 the Mind's Eye 



David Levering Lewis 



always makes the reader believe that he or she is participating in a particular history 
as it actually was. After all, he possessed one of the finest historical minds ot any 
American intellectual. Yet, in this great man's oeuvre we find a decided and persistent 
inclination to rearrange the facts to good advantage, to manipulate place and time in 
minor and subtle ways, to marshal the narrative in the service of a higher truth — that 
of the legitimate social and political aspirarions of a people historically abased by its 
countrymen and women. To Du Bois, this invention and manipulation of place and 
time was an ethical imperative, a democratic duty. Like the Platonic Lie, it truly was 
meant to serve that larger truth to which all should subscribe — that liberty and justice 
must trump all other concerns. 

For Du Bois, the invention of place begins with the Berkshire milieu of the late 
19th century. 'Ihe importance of the Great Barrington, Massachusetts, period, its 
imprint upon all that Willie Du Bois grew to be, was deep, and certainly singular. His 
sense of identity or belonging was spun out berween the poles of two distinct racial 
groups — black and white — and two dissimilar social classes — lower and upper — to 
form that double consciousness of being he would famously describe at the age of 
35 in The Souls of Black Folk. Because he sedulously invented, molded and masked 
this village world ro suit his egocentric, if inspired, purposes of personal and racial 
affirmation, the Berkshire period was variously Edenic fable and racial crucible. The 
maternal family story rold by Du Bois across six generations is one of vintage New 
England motes seen through the scrim of class and color. 

His people wete patt of a "great clan," he says, of the Burghardts of South Egre- 
mont Plain. From Tom Burghatdt, property of one Conraet Borghhaerdt, is begotten 
Jack, husband of Violet and then of Mum Bett, and veteran of the Shays Rebellion 
and the War of 1812. Jack's three sons, Othello, ira and Harlow, struggled along on the 
plain beyond Green River in neat houses set back from the main road within easy walking 
distance of one another. Hatlow seems to have held on best. His ptnpetry transactions 
in the Great Barrington Town Hall Registry of Deeds show a fair amount of profit 
from land sales during the period. Othello had rhe leasr gumption, or so thought his 
demanding grandson, "Uncle Tello," as Du Bois called his mothers father, was said to 
be too fond of the medicine ptescribed for a hip injury and left much of rhe running 
of things to his capable wife, Sarah or Sally, a handsome, tan woman from Hillsdale, 
New York. The federal census tracks Othello Burghardts occupational vagaries decade 
by decade — 1850, whitewasher; 1860, laborer — until that for 1870 finds him with 
"no occupation" at 80, in a nimbus of pipe tobacco by the fireside. 

But whether energetic or indolent, this black yeomanry was grappling wirh 
large, impersonal forces, and as Great Barrington's established white families began to 
prosper, its black ones, Willie Du Bois's among them, wete sliding into subsistence. 
The black families clung fiercely to basic moral values — churchgoing, work, wedlock 
and legitimate births. "The family customs were New England, and the sex mores," 
Du Bois recalled. Hemmed in by a racially exclusive industtialism, the whitening of 
domestic work and their own deep conservatism, they were either like Uncle Tello, 

The Mind's Eye 7 



David Levering Lewis 

stuperous by his fireside, atrophying, or* like cousin John Burghardt, determined not 
to be licked and moving on. 

The real world Tom Burghardt: s faltering descendants made for themselves appears 
much transformed in the rnythopoeie prose of Tom's illustrious great-great-grandson. In 
those lyrical memoirs, whether Darkw&ter, A Pageant in Seven Decades, Dusk of Dawn 
or The Autobiography, we are drawn to participate in a chronicle of epic sweep, at once 
familial, racial, national, global and prophetic. Enchantingly, heroically, each of these 
works employs the language of the saga. Each alludes to the author's portentous birth 
"by a golden river in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation 
Proclamation." The place of birth is idyllic and the circumstances neither rich nor 
poor, but suited in their modesty to the author's large destiny. In local-color accents 
redolent of Washington Irving, Great Harrington is fairly faithfully pictured as K a little 
New England town nestled shyly in its valley with something of Dutch cleanliness 
and English reticence." The house of his birth is "quaint, with clapboards running up 
and clown, neatly trimmed." There is a "rosy front yard" to frolic in and "unbelievably 
delicious strawberries in the rear." 

Whereupon the chords of destiny begin to sound ever fuller. His "'own peopie 
were part of a great clan. >! The founding ancestor's relationship to his white slave master 
is subdely altered. "Sullen in his slavery," Tom Burghardt comes through the western 
pass, from the Hudson "with his Dutch captor," rather than being brought there by 
him. Tom's three days of service in Captain Spoor 's company become an enlistment "to 
serve fot three years" in the War of Independence. 1 By the time of The Autobiography, 
Tom's son Jack definitely decides his place is with Daniel Shays against the forces of 
monopoly capital. The "house of my grandfather Othello," that "sturdy, small and 
old -fashioned" dwelling on Egremont Plain, cradles ten more shoots of the mighty 
family — one of them, Mary Silvina, Wil! Du Boiss mother, some time in 1831. Hers 
is a dulcet movement: "Mother was dark shining bronze, with smooth skin and lovely 
eyes; there was a tiny ripple in her black hair; and she had a heavy, kind face." 

The Du Bois family reality was much different, of course. Ihe Burghardts of 
Great Barrington were in a downward spiral, with Du Bois s partially paralyzed mother 
deserted by her enigmatic octoroon husband, and their means of sustenance almost 
hand to mouth. But if the rising tide of mainstream prosperity threatened some with 
drownings in rhe crucial area of public education it promised a lift for all those with 
enough motivation. Before Du Boiss first birthday, Great Barring: on i,ii is voted 52,000 
to create a public high school. A plain, rectangular building wenr up next to the old 
wooden elementary schoulhouse in 1869, the town's second brick structute after the 
Episcopal church, k would be W E. B. Du Bois's salvation. 

Young Willie Du Bois told himself that race, in the large sense of generalized 
and congealed attitudes about his people, had played no part in his elementary school 



1 Du Bois quoted in The Autobiography ofW. E. B. Du Bois (New York: International, 1968) 62, 63; and 
Darkwdter: Voices from the Past (New York: Washington Square, 2004) t >. 

8 Ihe Mind's Eye 



David Levering Lewis 

experience. Had he not been cheered on by the leading citizens as he advanced year 
after year — the sole black boy in the school — more quickly than most of his white 
classmates? Had he not always felt welcome in the homes of even his wealthy classmates 
and frequently been complimented by their parents fot setting a good example? In 
the early, innocent, Horatio Alger years, then, Du Bois believed thai the differences 
among people were rhe result of industry or ability — and sometimes physical cour- 
age. "Tronnccd" once by a burly white lad during recess, "honor" had been preserved 
by fighting and suffering manfully before onlooking classmates. The Shanty Irish 
"preferred" to live as they did, he concluded, just as most of the black Burghardts 
now lacked the acumen to keep up. Mike Gibbons was better at matbles than he, but 
Mike was a dummy ar Larin. Secure in his playground sociology, in which class and 
race had more to do with character than with economics, the future Marxist theorist 
acquired a rugged New England individualist's understanding of social mobility and 
would be greatly reassured until he reached the threshold of adolescence. 

Bur race was to find a place. With that flare for drama in language in which 
he has few equals, Du Bois pinpoinrs for the first time in The Souk of Black Foil! the 
exact moment in his ten-year-old life, a spting day in 1878, when the theorems of 
playground sociology were, supposedly, forever shattered: Here we have one of the 
best instances of the race, place, milieu dynamic at work: 

1 remember well when the shadow swept actoss me. I was a little thing, away 
up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between 
Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something 
put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards— ten 
cents a package — and exchange. The exchange was merty, till one girt, a tall 
newcomer, refused my card — refused it peremptorily, with a glance. 'Ihen 
it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the 
othets; or like, mayhap, in heart and life, and longing, but shut out from 
their world by a vast veil. 

A permanent, anchoring sense of Du Boiss racial identity could have come ftom a 
single such traumatic tebuffin the "wee wooden schoolhouse." interracial companion- 
ship has always been one of the first casualties of approaching puberty. The incident 
must have occurred, and his account of it is certainly psychologically plausible. Yet 
sympathetic skepticism is advisable whenever Du Bois advances a concept or proposi- 
tion byway of autobiography. Often, the truth is not in the facts but in the conceptual 
or moral validity behind them. In the case of the sweeping shadow and separaring veil, 
there are several versions and equivalents. 

Place doesn't change as much as time. In one, the lacetating moment is replaced 
by a Chinese warer rorture of small and subtle insults. "Very gradually — I cannot now 
distinguish the steps," Darkwater, angriest of the memoirs, says, "though here and 
there I remember a jump or a jolt — but very gradually 1 found myself assuming quire 



The Mind's Eye 9 



David Levering Lewis 

placidly" that face mattered greatly. Another account seems to place the conversion 
experience ol the cards in the btich high school, and the offending newcomer may 
have been Agnes O'Neil, whom Willie dismisses in the Autobiography as a gorgeous 
dtesset "whose ancestors nobody knew . . . otherwise she was negligible." In this ver- 
sion, it was then that he "began to feel the pressure of the 'veil of color ; i n litrle matters 
ar first and then in larger," after entering high school. Whenever the veil descended 
upon him, Du Bois left Great Harrington High in IS 84 wirh honors and a dawning 
consciousness of race. 

it was mostly because of money rhat Harvard and second choice Williams were 
den ied him. A year later, with money earned as timekeeper for the labot ctews erecting 
Searles Castle, the oucsucd mansion of a railroad mogul's widow, and contributions 
from Berkshire Congregational churches, our New England scholar headed south ro 
Fisk University. He entered the class of 1 8 89 as a sophomore, resolved ro srudy the novel 
problem of American race relarions. If the)' were going to he his life's work, the fisk under- 
graduate needed to spend rime among those African -Americans who were unlikely ever 
to see the inside of a Risk classroom — among real peasants in the rural backcounrry. 
Instead of returning home ar rhe end of rhe sophomore year, rhen, he ser out on a 
Saturday in late June I H86 ro walk the Lebanon Pike past Andrew Jackson's spt awling 
estate just outside Nashville, east in the direction of Knoxville and the Cumberland 
Mountains. 

He traveled, all told, no more rhan 50 miles from Nashville, but measured by 
the distance from civilization, Du Bois found himself entering a zone where time had 
stopped the day after rhe day of jubilee. He was in a place, he wrote later, that "touched 
the very shadow of slavery." Wilson County, Tennessee, would remain in his memory 
bank a lifetime, influencing a prose to which he was beginning ro give a mythic spin. 
Suddenly, a mile or so on rhe approach to Watertown, then a Cumberland Plateau 
hamlet of seven homes, Wilson L. Waters' feed store and a brand-new railroad depot, 
Josie sprang into the road with a sunlit smile and a barrage of questions. Josie (her 
family name was Dowell) was wiry, dark-skinned, about 20 years old, physically plain, 
but every inch alive. She and he had never seen the likes of each othet before. As thev 
strolled down the road together in mutual fascinarion, she told him of the schoolhouse 
over the hill just beyond Alexandria. Presenting himself to the local school commissioner, 
a pleasanr, white college fellow, he was readily appointed teachet to the colored at $28 a 
month, Josic's four-room place in a scraggly clearing deep in rhe woods became home for 
the summer, wirh its illirerare, indolent bur solid, kindly farher, its brood of children and 
Mrs. Dowell, depicted by Willie as "strong, binding, and energetic, with a quick, restless 
tongue, and an ambition to live," she said, just " 'like folks.' " 

'The Souls of Black Folk and The Autobiography describe a progressive education idyll 
that summer, but the essay i n the Hsk Herald, "How I Taught School," is less idyllic and 
more reminiscent of prim, lovely Charlotte Forten's Civil Wat Diary, a hand-wringi ng 
classic by another African-American norrherner on a mission of educational uplift in 
the backward South. By summer's end, teacher Du Bois caught "faint and transient 
10 The Mind 1 ! Eye 



David Levering Lewis 

glimpses of the dawn in the struggling minds of my pupils." Josie, nervous, always in 
motioiij led the class. The Herald piece closed with his vowing he "wouldn't take £200 
for [his] summers experience, and [he] wouldn't experience it again for $2,000." 

But lie did. He was back in Alexandria the following summer at $30 a month, 
back in this hardscrabble Eden of postbellum innocence, as a lodger again with Josics 
people. Ihe experience builds in lyricism now — of white farmers and black laborers in 
a symbiosis of fatal inefficiency; of transforming modern energies doused and drowned 
by one-crop economies. There is wasted learning and wasted love, self-hatred, lethargy, 
decay and miscegenated tape. The struggles of the little people of the South are captured 
in all their fabulous afflictions. The heroic futility of the two summers weighed upon 
him. He saw written across the faces deep in Wilson County the rebuked destinies 
of the black people who came singing, praying and aspiring out of slavery and who were 
sinking into ' listless indifference, orshiftlessness, or reckless bravado." There is no question 
but that he grew fond of the people in Wilson County, that they came to have meaning for 
him, transcending symbolism and sociology, J he intensity of his prose when he describes 
these rwo summers attests to die personal impact of the Alexandria sojourns. 

Ten years passed before Du Bois saw Alexandria again. But ten years later, Josie 
was dead C'WcVe had a heap of trouble since you've been away"' her mother said), 
and the 75 acres Doc Burke had finally bought left him deeper in debt. That trade-off 
of material progress for loss of spirit that humanists arc wont to underscore Du Bois 
saw everywhere, in the flight to Nashville and Knoxville of the young men, in the six- 
room house the Burkes were building, the store-bought shoes worn by the wives, the 
new Wheeler schoolhouse with large blackboard and windows, "Death and marriage 
had stolen youth and left age and childhood there," he reflected. He departed after 
this third visit wondering how to "measure progress there where the dark face of Josie 
lies?" Du Bois might have been somewhat consoled could he have known that his 
teaching would he remembered a century later in Watertown and Alexandria among 
African-American families, and that some of them — the Dowells and the Burkes in 
particular — would prosper in real estate and undertaking. 

Let us fast-forward to another shaping place — beyond Fbk, Harvard, the Kaiser 
Friedrich Wilhelm Universitat, the Harvard Ph,D., the Atlanta Universiry professor- 
ship, the founding of the NAACP, to the second Pan African Congress in summer 
1921. The Second Pan African Congress opened in London's Central Hail, resumed 
in Brussels and adjourned in Paris. In Du Bois, the Pan African idea found an intel- 
lectual temperament and organizational audacity enabling it to advance beyond the 
evangelical and litetary to become an embryonic movement of long-term, worldwide 
significance. No other person of color then living, with the problematic exception of 
Marcus Garvcy, was as capable of articulating the idea and mobilizing others in its 
service. 

The men and women of color attending the three sessions (Du Bois listed about 
30 from the United States) came, in large part, because they needed to believe in Du 
Bote's ecumenical vision. Undoubtedly, some came to London, Brussels and Paris to 

The Mind's Eye U 



David Levering Lewis 

boast about their travels when they returned home. But it is very likely that the famous 
tenor Roland Hayes, the research librarian Ruth Anna Fisher, the young sociologist 
on fellowship in Denmark E. Franklin Frazier, Morehouse College presidenr John 
Hope, rhe spellbinding Chicago prelate Bishop Archibald Carey, Sr., and Mrs. Carey 
were genuinely engaged in the project. Also attending were Hastings Banda, the East 
African physician; John L. Dube, the South African educator; and Albert Marryshaw, rhe 
Grenadian trade unionist, all of whom were to play similar senior-statesmen rules in their 
respective countries, as would Ibidunni Obadende of Nigeria. The evidence is circum- 
stantially strong that a peripatetic young Annamese nationalist named Nguyen That Tan 
attended the Patis session. He would become much better known as Ho Chih Minh. 

"The world must face two eventualities," Du Bois intoned as he reached the 
conclusion of the principal address, To the World. Either Africa must be assimilated 
completely by Europe on the basis of absolutely equal political, civil and social privi- 
leges for its black and white citizens or Europe must allow the rise of an autonomous 
"great African state" based on popular education, industry and freedom of trade. 
Punch reported the London Times headline — "No Eternally Inferior Races" — with 
the pun "No, but in the opinion of out coloured brothers, some infernally superior 
ones." Leaving for Brussels, a pleased Du Bois observed that the artention received by 
the congress ' l was astonishing." 

With its outsized public squares, monumental government palaces and florid 
architecture, Brussels had served as the unnamed city in Heart of Darkness rhar always 
reminded Conrad's hero of a "whited sepulchre." As Du Bois and the others had to 
know, the construction of King Leopold II 's new Brussels was financed from the grinding 
exploitation, of the people and minerals of the Congo. Du Bois and his companion, Jes- 
sie Fauset, literary editor of Crisis magazine, became aware of their well-mannered hosts' 
mounting unease about a roving symposium on the future of Africa. The Union Congolaise, 
comprised of pliant Africans, assured the visitors drat ail was now quite satisfactory in what 
had not so long before been acknowledged as the nadir of Europe in Africa. Bouncy and 
articulate, Mfumu Paul Panda, one of the rare educated Congolese, was assigned to guide 
the delegates on a tour of the cavernous Musee du Congo atTervuren (today's Musee Royal 
de 1'Afrique Centraie) a few miles outside the capiral. 

The Museum of the Congo was in a literal and figurative sense a mausoleum for 
the Congo, its 20 exhibition halls radiating like spokes in a juggernaut from a tower- 
ing central court. Hall number seven contained masks and sculpture; in others, the 
wood, agricultural products, minerals, fossils, fauna and flora from Central Africa 
were displayed in gleaming cases seemingly without end. Du Bois admitted to being 
simply "astounded." "It was marvelous," he gasped — "the visible, riotous wealth of 
the Congo . . . the infinite, intriguing, exquisite beauty of art." At his side, Fauset 
was equally ecstatic over what she saw. Enthusiasm led her to suggest to Panda that 
American Negroes and Africans would be mutually enriched by a select number of 
teachers' visiting the Congo, which caused the unnerved educator, according to Fauser, 



12 The Mind's Bye 



David Levering Lewis 

to recoil in horror, spluttering, "Oh, no, no, no! Belgium would never permit that, 
the colored Americans are too clever." 

The Brussels session of the congress opened in an enormous Beaux Arts 
structure in the sprawling Pare du Cinquantenaire east of the city. Dominated by 
three triumphal arches, the 90-acre park of tree-lined allies decorated by ornate 
fountains provided the congress with an ostentatiously European theater in which 
to contemplate the future of Africa, "We could not have asked for a better setting," 
wtote Fauset, with no thought of irony. 2 'fhe press tables were crowded. Two generals 
sat on either side of Blaise Diagne, France's living proof of the summits attainable by 
assimilated Senegalese. In the audience were several hundred Europeans and dozens 
of Congolese. His tall frame superbly tailored, the regal, frock-coated Blaise Diagne, 
High Commissioner of the French Republic and President of the Pan African Con- 
gress, conducted the meetings uniquely in French and with imperious disregard for 
the Americans who found rhcmselves, as Du Bois put it, "linguistically stranded." 
After three days of what Fauset described as pleasant generalities, "wirhout a word of 
criticism of colonial governmenrs, without a murmur of complaint of Black Africa," 
restraint gave way to confrontation. 

Du Bois wtote later in The New Republic that he had risen "in no spirit of 
troublemaking" to read the London resolutions on the last afternoon. The relatively 
mild sentence about Belgian reluctance to allow the Congolese any participation in 
government, followed by the charge that "her colonial policy is still mainly dominat- 
ed by the banks and great corporations," stunned the assembly. Resolution VI calling 
for the restoration of the "ancient common ownership" of African lands plunged the hall 
into pandemonium. There were cries of "Bolshevist!" and " nbsotument inadmissible!" 
A Belgian diplomat hurried forward with a resolution that Diagne put to a vote with- 
out discussion and declared approved, even though Du Bois complained that "guests 
and visitors" had voted. In lieu of the demand fot education of Africans for "complete 
self-government," the high commissioner for French West Africa embraced a grovel- 
ing stipulation that Africans were merely "susceptible of advancement from their 
present backwardness and that rhe Pan African Congress should become part of a 
federated European uplift movemenr. August 1921 in Belgium was manifestly the 
wrong place and time to broach meaningful ideas about colonial progress. 

Amenia, New York, serves as our final shaping place. The time is August 1933, 
the occasion, the so-called second Amenia Conference convened at Troutheck, the 
estate of Joel Fiias Spingarn, Dutchess County squire, man of letrers, publisher and 
NAACP president. The agenda: to find strategies for coping with the Gteat Depression, 
Accommodated tout army cots each to ten tents, the attendees began arriving on a 
rainy, unseasonably cool Friday morning. "All except one were college graduates," Du 
Bois's summary press reporr stated. "A number had advanced degrees and three had 
degrees of doctors of philosophy." Several, such as E, Franklin Frazier, were already 

2 Jessie Fauset, "Impressions of the 2nd Pan-African Congress," Criiis (Nov. 192]): 14. 



I he Minds Eye \1 



David Levering Lewis 

acknowledged social-science paragons. Ralph Bundle, Abram Harris, Charles Hamilton 
Housron and Ira D. Reid were expected. Bunche, Harris, Brown and Houston, radi- 
cals on the Howard University faculty, were attempting to shift the African-American 
intelligentsia's focus on race ro an analysis of the economics of class, 'lhe crisis of the 
decade made economic interprerations among black academics almost as much a seal 
of professional sophistication as among their white peers, flavoring their parlance with 
terms such as "social cataclysm," "accumulation and distribution of wealth," the 
struggle of classes wirhin and between "economic systems" and the like. 

In accordance with Du Bois and Spingarn's plan for the four-day event, rhe 
participants ranged the grounds of Troutbeck in spirited discussion, aggregated in 
small, freewheeling discussion groups, and met at scripred inrervals for plenary de- 
liberations under a tent large enough for an audience of 75- Amenia's objectives were 
open discussions with optional consideration of any and all questions pertinent to race 
relarions and the national economy. Beyond a summary narrative, therefore, no record 
was made or rhe discussions. Distinguished whites from the neighborhood motored 
over to observe, mingle and, in several instances, to sit in on sessions inconspicuously. 
Spingarn's friend and neighbor U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenrhau, Jr., visited 
on the last day of the conference and promptly fell inro deep conversation with Du 
Bois. The camera caught NAACP board member Mary Ovingron, standing next to 
James Weldon Johnson, fedora ar the jaunty angle befitting "Gentleman Jim." Ovington 
was a Progressive relic with white hair accenruated against a smiling dark background. 
Johnson was increasingly unpopular with some of the young militants who thought 
him too conservative and schmoozy in the company of powerful whites. A popular 
libel claimed rhat Johnson could whisper in a white man's ear so quietly that not even 
Johnson himself could hear what he was saying. 

Saturday morning belonged to the radicals. The Young Turks argued that once 
economic exploitation was ended thtough the power of organized labor and stare plan- 
ning, the race problem would lade away. For his parr, elder statesman Du Bois looked 
on indulgently as Harris and Bunche appealed for a broad coalition with labor as part 
of a plan to bring about a social democratic revolution in the United States. Abram 
Harris possessed the considerable distinction of having authored a classic at the age 
of 32 — the indispensable The Black Worker: Jbe Negri) and the Labor Movement. Du 
Bois's fondness for Harris in no way softened a conviction thar the primacy given by Har- 
ris and others to class solutions myopicatly discounred die institutional utility of racism. 
"Most of rhe younger trained college group were convinced that rhe economic pattern 
of any civilization determined its development along all cultural lines," he sighed. Walter 
White and Roy Wilkins arrived at the last moment determined ro hold the line against 
far-reaching departutes from rhe associations economic and political programs. 

Vigorous objecrions to the position advanced by Bunche and Harris at the 
conference marerialized before long from a cluster of opinions forming, somewhat 
surprisingly, around Frazier that attempted to fuse socialism with racial solidarity. Du 
Bois wrote some time later of having held designs strikingly similar to Frazier s. "I had 
14 The Mind's Eye 



David Levering Lewis 

hoped for such insistence upon the compelling importance of the economic factor," 
he remembered, "that this would lead to a project for a planned program for using the 
tacial segregation, which was at present inevitable, in order that the laboring masses 
might be able to have built beneath them a strong foundation for self-support and 
social uplift " YWCA staffer Wenonah Bond and Delaware attorney Louis Redding 
recorded a growing recoil from the economic radicalism of the opening session. 

Given Amenias good weather, sylvan setting, good food, recreational diversions 
and plenitude of credentials, perhaps it was understandable that the plight of the masses 
remained an abstraction for some of the conferees. After all, as Bond chirped, "It 
was a grand crowd — nice people with whom to swim and row and walk and play base- 
ball, and exchange jokes; people who do successful jobs, yet have time to follow hobbies 
and avocations with enthusiasm." The dominant point of view held that capitalism 
was down but definitely not out, and that the value of Amenia was to offer pragmatic 
recommendations to ensure that the best and brightest African-Americans rode out the 
Depression. Edward Spingarn, who remembered trail ing along with his mother as she 
took moving pictures of the proceedings with an electric camera, believed his father 
was deeply concerned about the Communist tendencies of the younger intellectuals. 
"My father felt that this was a tragic mistake," he claimed. 

To many, if not the majority, of those who attended, the consensus for change 
that emerged from Amenia II — despite the incompatibilities and ambiguities — was 
exciting in its promise of irresistible momentum. According to Du Bois, no one dis- 
sented ftom the criticism that "we had been rhinking of the exceptional folk, 
the Talented Tenth, the well-to-do; that we must now turn our attention toward the 
welfare and social uplift of the masses." Out of die seeming catharsis of the Sunday- 
night session, then, came the selection of what Du Bois described as "a continuation 
committee," temporarily chaired by Houston and composed of Bunche, Frazier, Harris, 
Reid, Wilkins and Washington economist Mabel Byrd. This was the committee, to be 
formally established a year later as the Committee on the Future Plan and Program, 
that the aggressive Harris would attempt to transform into an engine for the reinvention 
of the NAACP and redefinition of the civil righrs struggle. In die end, nevertheless, it was 
left to the Japanese at Pearl Harbor to resuscitate the national economy and the NAACE 

We end as we began: with Hippolyte Taine's analytical trilogy of race, place and 
time, because it provides a perfect lead to Du Bois s own apologia pro vita sua — of the 
global place he invented for himself in the 20th century. Summing himself up in The 
Autahiogaphy, William Edward Burghardt said this: 

Had it not been for the race problem eatly thtust upon me and enveloping 
me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine 
of the established social order into which 1 was born + But just that part ot this 
order which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection seemed to me 
most inequitable and wrong; and starting from that critique, I gradually, as the 
years went by, found other things to question in my environment. (155) 

The Mind's Eye 15 



Muddy Waters: 
W. E. B. Du Bois and 
the Commemorative 
Controversy over His 
Hometowns Symbolic 
Landscape* 

BY CONSTANCE N. BROOKS 

In July 2004* a controversy began in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, over the 
com memo radon of native son W E. B. Du Bois. Debate centered on the name of 
a newly constructed public elementary school, ultimately called the Muddy Brook 
Regional Elementary School. 

The school-uame controversy in Great Barrington spanned several months and 
was enacted through media coverage, letters to the editor, speeches at School Commit^ 
tee meetings and submissions to the School Committee. The process of naming the 
school revealed cumpeting views of Great Barrington s past, present and future identi- 
ties. Far more than a simple, inconsequential decision the question of whether or not 
to commemorate Du Bois by naming the school, part of Great Barrington's symbolic 
landscape, after him, sparked a controversy revolving around issues of public memory, 
racial politics, patriotism and regional and national identities. 

The recent debate resonated with contesred commemoration of other leaders of 
the civil rights movement throughout the United States, though scholarly work on the 
topic concentrates on the American South (Alderman, "New Memorial," "Street"; Dw- 
yer ? "Interpreting 1 *; Leib). The move to exclude Du Bois's name from Great Barrington's 
landscape was connected to a historical trend in the "white, free" North to ignore the 
slave past of the region and to erase a black presence from the landscape (Melish). 

* An excerpt irom the master's rhesi.t submitted to (l» University of London, from which the author received 
atl MA in c ultural geography. 

16 The Minds Eye 



Constance N. Brooks 



This exclusion conflicted with an attempt by the communi ty to define itself as racially 
tolerant. Du Bois's patriotism and political beliefs became key areas of contention, as 
residents sought to create and contest their regional and national identities, including 
a negotiation of memories of the CoM War and McCarthyism. Du Bois's political views 
were problematic for residents trying to maintain an allegiance to a national identity that 
valued loyalty to the state and mainstream capitalist views. A focus on Du Bois's "exile" to 
Ghana and his dubious patriotism underscored hih status as ''alien" and is tied to a racial- 
izing of communism evident in previous objections to Du Bois memorials, and to a general 
historical trend (Noakes; Schrecker; Home). The question of whose ideals of patriotism 
and democracy should be part of the landscape became central to the controversy. Some 
framed Du Boiss defense of civil liberties as the ultimate commitment to American ideals, 
whereas others framed his actions as a threat to political stability 

Du Bois was portrayed as either an insider — i.e., aproducT of the local schools and 
a source of pride — or an outsider, different in race, opposed in politics and a threat to 
the future. Great Harringtons controversy is instructi ve of how discourses of power, race, 
politics and identity are evidenced and contested in a commemorative landscape. 

Great Barrington's Symbolic Landscape 

The symbolic landscape of the town is dominated by war and veterans memorials. 
Place markers also denote sites of historical interest. The town's only high school is named 
after Monument Mountain, a prominent geographical feature. William Cullen Bryant 
Elementary School and Searles Middle School (replaced by Muddy Brook Elemenrary 
and Monument Valley Middle schools) were named after prominent white, male citi- 
zens of Great Barrington. One unusual plaque recalls a Great Barrington native, Laura 
Ingersoll Second, Secord, who moved Co Canada after rhe Revolutionary War, is noted 
for her loyalty to the British during the War of 1812. Secord's plaque is unique because 
she is one of the only women memorialized publicly and because she was a traitor to 
the American cause; therefore, the plaque does not contribute to the dominant patriotic 
tone of the war memorials. According to one interviewee, the placement of the plaque 
by the town's historic commission in 1997 did engender some opposition. Another 
unique memorial, the Newsboy Monument, was erected in 1895 by Colonel William 
L. Brown, part owner of the New York Daily Neivs, to honor the unsung, poorly paid 
children who sold newspapers on city streets and without whom the paper could not 
have succeeded. Monuments to children are rare; though unique, the statue celebrates 
American virtues of hard work and determination. 

In general, the symbolic landscape of Great Barrington supports a patriotic 
national and regional identity in the form of war and veterans' memorials. Historic 
markers highlight the towns settlement by the English and subsequent removal of 
Native Americans. Even unusual markers, such as the Secord plaque and the Newsboy 
Monument, reveal common tropes of American virtues: unsung heroism, dedication, 
hard work and courage. 

The Mind's Eye 17 



Constant? N. Brooks 



Commemoration of W. E, B. Du Bois 

The Du Bois boyhood homesite became the focus of controversy in 1968 and 
1969 when a group of local and international supporters sought to preserve the site as a 
park. It was once home to Du Bois's maternal grandfather, Othello Burghardt, and Du 
Bois himself lived there for several years as a child. Though friends deeded the site to 
Du Bois in 1928 as a bitthday present, he was never able to rehabilitate the house and 
it fell into ruin. Walter Wilson, a white southerner and lifelong member of the NAACP, 
and Edmund Gordon, former national ditectnr of Project Head Start, purchased the 
site in 1967 (Fletcher 33). The pair founded the Du Bois Memorial Foundation in 
1968 and soon atrracted national sponsots, including Aaron Copcland, Ossie Davis and 
Sidney Poitier. When word began to citculate in town of the plans to commemotatc 
Du Bois with a park, opposition formed. As Fletcher notes, "Kditorial comments in the 
Berkshire Courier (recanted in 1979), neighboring property owners, and members of 
the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars criticized Du Bois for joining rhe 
Communist Party at age ninety-diree and alleged, incorrectly, that he had tenounced 
his U.S. citizenship" (34). The controversy was also racially charged. When dedication 
ceremonies nearcd, the local police department assembled riot gear in anticipation of 
violence that might occur on the site between "local uittapatriots" and "black militant 
and other groups from metropolitan ateas such as Hartford and Albany, N . Y. [who] 
were planning an incident." 1 The dedication ceremony proved ro be peaceful. 

In 1976, the site was granted National Historic Landmark status by the National 
Parks Service. Now in the custody of rhe University of Massachusetts, it has languished 
due to a lack of funds and genetal lack of interest. Though the subject of an archaeologi- 
cal field school for several years, the plot remains neglected and hard to locate. The sire's 
transformarion is a good example of Pierre Noras concept of a lieude mtmoires capacity 
for change. It moved from family home to neglected site, then became a memorial park 
and cenrer of controversy, later an archaeological dig investigating the region's African- 
American hisrory. Plans lor the furure include turning ir into a locus for that history. 
Illustrating Kenneth Foote and Owen Dwyet's concept of symbolic accretion, the site 
has gained layers of meaning due to its storied past. 

Other efforts to commemorate Du Bois have been mote successful and prominent. 
In 1 994, the local histotical society marked the site of Du Bois's birthplace and the fam- 
ily burial plot with btass plaques. The W. E. B. Du Bois PJver Garden, near Du Bois's 
birthplace, was dedicated in 2002, The tivet garden, created by a ptivate group, did not 
attract widespread opposition. A youth group has painted a large mural memorializing 
Du Bois's life in a prominent downtown location. Finally, reflecting renewed interest 
in Du Bois's connection to the town and part of a larger trend of African-American 
heritage tourism, a pamphlet detailing 50 sites related to Du Bois in Great Battington 
was tecently published (Drew). 

1 "Du Bois Rites Occasioned Strong Security Measures." Berkshire EagU 25 Oct. 1969. 
IS The Mind's Eye 



Because che topics under investigation (such as race and politics) can be contentious 
and difficult to discuss, I felt that a variety of .methods would be the best approach. For 
example, interview respondents were often more candid In person than they were in 
written correspondence to the local media. In the end, L incorporated archival research, 
data coding, interviews and participatory observation into my full analysis. 

The naming controversy, received substantial media attention . The media coverage 
at times fed the controversy, and editorials and letters to the editor served as a sound- 
ing board for community members. To focus my analysis, I researched a year's worth 
of coverage, from the time the naming controversy entered the papers through, the 
naming decision and its aftemiarlv I also surveyed the media coverage of the 1968—1969 
boyhood-home dedication to place the recent controversy in context and reviewed the W. 
E, B. Du Bois Memorial Com mjtt.ee documents. 1 obtained copies of the applicable School 
Committee meeting minutes and letters that were submitted to the School Committee, all 
public documents. 

The number of media articles and letters was initially overwhelming. To help sort 
the emetging themes, I employed a content coding system and constructed a spteadsheet 
to organize the information. I also applied a similar coding system to the archival mate- 
rial from the 1960s to aid my understanding oi that controversy. Though I had some 
preliminary ideas of themes that might be contained in the media coverage, I allowed 
them to emerge from the data. 

I visited and photographed many of the Du Bois-related sites in Great Barrington, 
observed a musical presentation titled Souls Within the Veil and a history lecture on the 
origins of the local African-American community, participated in a colloquium held 
by the African American Biography Curriculum Project and joined a Du Bois-themed 
tour. Attending these events allowed me to observe what was being said outside of a 
direct-interview situation, and subsequent reflections deepened my understanding of 
the controversy. 

Racial Politics and the Symbolic Landscape 

In a controversy about the commemoration of an African -American activist in a 
town with a white majority of 95 percent, the debate inevitably revolved in part around 
issues of race. In fact, the rhetoric of race and allegations of racism (and consequent 
denials of ir) played a vety public role in the naming controversy. 

The high level of support for Du Bois's name from white area residents was no- 
table. There was an overall sense that the community wanted to see itself as toletant and 
wanted to distance itself from the overt racist rhetotic that characterized the resistance 
to the Du Bois boyhood-homesite dedication in 1968 and 1969. Many letters written 
to the local newspapers mentioned time, as in "Now is the right time to support the 
commemoration of Du Bois." One such example reads: 

Instead of censuring, marginalizing or icily ignoring Du Bois, the time has 



The Mind's Eye 19 



Constance N. Brooks 



come for Great Barrington to honor this great man for what he accomplished 
and for what he inspired others to do. 2 

"Time" was a euphemism for changing racial attitudes. 

Several interview respondents commented on their white status. One remarked, 
"I'm one of the white guys," and tied his involvement to a personal effort to overcome 
prejudices. 5 O ther respondents commented that it fell to some members of the white 
community to support efforts to commemorate Du Bois because the local black popula- 
tion was small. 11 Several respondents characterized the local black community as timid 
and hesitant to become involved, perhaps out of a fear of retaliation. One letter writer 
questioned the racial motives of white support for Du Bois: 

How can you name a school after a black man when yon don't know us at 
all? You can find my family — we are the only people of color on our block! 
Nobody asked us. Naming the school after W. E. B. Du Bois because he was 
a good man is one thing, naming the school after him because he was black 
is another. Is the 94.74 percent white population just trying to be liberal and 
say— see we named our school after a black man, were not racist? 5 

The writer is troubled by the fact that there were liberal, white supporters for Du 
Bois in a predominantly white town and impugns their motives. Support for naming 
the school after Du Bois was not unanimous among the areas minorities. If the support 
for Du Bois's name only serves to gratify some white folks' need to appear tolerant and 
progressive, the argument went, then 1, a member of the minority, dissent. The lerter 
generated a flurry of responses, including this one: 

A 94.74 majority of white people in this town does not mean those white 
people arc racists. I have never met [F. J.], but I can assure you that if we 
were to meet, 1 would treat him with the same respect I treat anyone. A 
respect based on his conduct, not his color. If [F. J.] experiences behavior in 
exception to that attitude, his letter should have been about that problem, 
and not about the naming of the school. 6 

The writer of the above letter reacts very personally to the generalized allegation of 
racism put forth by F. J. The personalization of the debate was an aspect that appeared 
many times throughout the year in letters, at meetings and in interviews with rcspon- 

2 K. B. and D. A., "Time for town to honor Du Bois," letter. Berkshire Eagle 5 Sept 2004. See also H. 
M.. "Barrington muse honor Du Bois," letter, Berkibirt Eagle 24 Jan. 2005. 

3 Interview notes, "C." 

* Interview notes, "C and D' 

s F. J., % Du Bois campaign feel-good liberalism?" Berkshire Eagle 8 Nov. 2004. 

fc M. N., "Baseless charge or racism in Barrington," Berkshire Eagh- 16 Nov. 2004. See also P.T„ "Du Bois 
bdongs to all Americans," Berkshire Eagle 22 Nov. 2004. 

20 The Mind) Eye 



Constance N. Brooks 



dents. Joanne Melish contends that in New England, a disownment of the regions slave 
past led to a discomfort with the presence of African-Americans in the landscape. She 
argues, "It was an easy leap from che erasure of the experience of slavery to the illusion 
of the historical absence of people of colot generally" (xiv). She quotes several African- 
Americans who experienced life in both the South and the North, including onetime 
Great Barrington resident James Weldon Johnson, who writes, "Northern white people 
love the Negro in a sort of abstract way, as a race; through a sense of justice, charity, and 
philanthropy"' (qtd. in Melish xii). Based on these and like observations* Melish sug- 
gests there existed a "visceral discomfort on the part of northern whites with the actual, 
physical presence of individual persons of color i n the landscape" (xiii) . Some element of 
this resistance is srill evident in New England, and in Great Barrington particularly, and 
was part of the resistance to placing Du Bois's name prominently in the community. 

In the recent school-naming debate, there was no dirccr support for rhe conten- 
tion that some residents did not want their landscape marked with a bUck person's 
name, though aiiecdotaJly it existed. Several interview respondents mentioned their 
belief that town -government teptesentatives were opposed to the idea and directed the 
School Committee not to choose Du Bois's name/ The overwhelming support of geo- 
graphical features as appropriate names for the rwo schools may have been an indirect 
indication, as are the letters that stated that naming the school after any person would 
be inappropriate. One notable letrer submitted from the Stockbridge town selectmen 
(constituent town of the school district) states, "We do not feel that the schools should 
be named after any person, living or dead. With this in mind we respectfully suggest 
the following: Monument Mountain Elementary School/Middle School or Berkshire 
Hills Elementary School/Middle School." 8 The town selectmen of West Stockbridge 
also submitted a letter to the School Committee. They were more forthcoming, srating, 
"Regrettably, a small group seeks to appropriate our new buildings via a misplaced, albeit 
noble, cause. . . . [T] he Board voted to offer our suggestion for naming the new middle 
and elementary schools: Monument Mountain Elementary School and Monument 
Mountain Middle School. Please consider our suggestion. Most times, the right choice 
is the obvious one,'" 3 As elected officials, quoted town selectmen and School Commit- 
tee members reflected a dominant hegemony. Melish recommends the use of town and 
selectmen's records, as they provide "unparalleled insight into the nature and workings 



7 Interview notes, "C and E" 

1 Selectmen, Town of Stockbridge, letter 10 School Com mitr.ee. number 161.29 Nov, 2004, 
Note: Although throughout this document letter wrtiers and speakers are listed by their initials in an 
effort to protect their privacy, letters from town -government representatives ate not anonymiied- As the 
selectmen were writing in their capacity as public officials, there is no obligation to protect their privacy; 
Also, although the term "selecimen" is unnecessarily gender-specific, the town representatives, both men 
and women^ identify themselves wiih this term; therefore, it is used here. 

9 Selectmen, Town of Wesr Stockbridge, letter to School Committee, number GO, 17 Nov. 2004. 



The Mind's Eye 2\ 



Consume N. Brooks 

of government at the point of irs acrual interface with ordinary citizens. . . . [W]hat 
locally elected officials actually did in the course of interacting with citizens , . . yields 
a very different undemanding of the practices of 'race,' class, and gender" (9). As many 
people know, rhere has; been a move underway to explore the historic role of people of 
African descent in Berkshire County, but these efforts have been in contestation with a 
dominant and historical narrative of their absence. 

Racial politics were central to the naming controversy in Great Barrington. Al- 
legations of racism had the unfortunate effect uf polarizing the School Committee and 
supporters of Du Bois's name, making agreement or even compromise hard ro attain. 
White support of Du Bois's name could be attributed to a changing political climate 
(commemoration of blacks is more accepted now than in the 1960s), attempts to over- 
come personal prejudices and an overall desire of the community to see itself as liberal 
and racially tolerant. Support for Dn Bois's name, however, conflicted with a dominant 
and historical narrative that excludes African-Americans from rhe symbolic landscape of 
New England. This exclusion has roots ill the elimination of slavery from the Northeast 
and a corollary removal of blacks from the landscape, both physically and symbolically. 
Several efforts ro commemorate Du Bois in Great Barrington have been successful (the 
mural and the birthplace plaque, for example), which shows that change has raketl 
place, albeit slowly. In the case of the school, however, support fot geographical place- 
names and the restriction against naming the school after any person were methods 
used, knowingly or not, to ensure that the dominanc commemorative traditions were 
maintained. 

Patriotism and Politics: Toward Creating a Shared Identity 

Du Bois's move to Ghana, his political move away from the center (to the left) 
and his dubious patriotism became key areas of contention in the naming controversy, 
emphasizing his starus as alien and "other." 

A dichotomy between i its ide and outside was often found in letters regarding Du 
Bois's choice to leave the United States and move to Ghana. As in the following letter, 
Du Bois was often portrayed as an outsider and expatriate: 

Du Bois turned against this country, loudly and publicly denouncing it and 
opting to move to Ghana in a state of self-imposed exile. . , . Much thoughr 
must be given to the name selected for this complex, It is the least our School 
Committee members can do for those of us who own homes here. . . . More 
importantly, they owe it to those who have died in the defense and pursuit 
of freedom. 10 

This lerrer writer focuses on Du Boiss move to Ghana, questioning his allegiance to 
the United States. To "turn against" implies an aggressive stance and active abandonment. 

L R., "Du Bois noc worthy of honoring." Ictier, Btrlakirt Eagle 5 July 2004. 



22 The Mind's Eye 



Constance N- Brooks 



Du Bois was also contrasted with those current residents of the three towns that make 
up the school district who were "here" and would be asked to pay for the school and 
ics signage. Du Bois's exile was "self-imposed" in contrast to those who must leave the 
country because of their jobs or because of "duty to country." The writer of the above 
letter recognizes that not all those who die on foreign soil are tainted with un-American- 
ism. Journalist Daniel Pearl and a local serviceman who died in Iraq were cited as far 
more deserving ofrhe honor than Du Bois." Du Bois's action, because chosen willingly 
and seemingly tied to his decision to become a Communist, incited outrage. To die for 
your country engaged in the battle to bring "freedom" ro another country was viewed 
as noble; in conrrasr, Du Bois's decision was ignoble and undeserving of honor. Heroes 
are often tied to a patriotic narrative of the past — think of war memorials such as Pearl 
Harbor, the Alamo, Boston's Freedom Trail. In rhis light, Du Bois's actions could nor 
be considered heroic or worthy of venerarion. 

The above letter generated several Further lertets in response. One person contends: 

This country is guilt)' of not living up to its Constitution when it comes to 
equality for all. For over 90 years Du Bois was forced to live with this injustice. 
He wotked tirelessly for the cause of justice and equality. 12 

In this case, those seen as not supporting the Constitution ate the ones portrayed 
as un-American. Du Bois, in comparison, is likened ro the Founding Fathers, the authors 
of the Constitution, allied in thought to Du Bois by their belief in justice and equality. 
By referring to "this country" the lettet writer chooses not to locare the debate in Great 
Barrington as so many others did, and broadens the debate to more general discourses 
regarding equality and justice in the U.S. The "cause of justice and equality" is equated 
with the Constitution, a symbol of the freedoms for which Americans are supposed to 
stand. The letter writet positions Du Bois, a supporter of these American goals, as more 
of a patriot than those in opposition to him and his commemoration. 

Such exchanges revealed a dispute regarding whose ideas of patriotism and de- 
mocracy should be remembered in the landscape of Great Barrington, Nuala Johnson 
notes, "The vocabulary of patriotism is particularly important 'because it has the capacity 
to mediate both vernacular loyalties to local and familiar places and official loyalties to 
national and imagined structures'* (7). A conflict between an overarching patriotism 
to the nation and loyalties to local and familiar places and people was evident in the 
controversy. Patriotism to the nation was important for residenrs and aided in main- 
raining their identity as Americans. For some, Du Bois's disloyalty to the nation was an 

' 1 L R.."Du Bois not worthy ofhonoritlg," letier, BerhljireEagbr^Yiy 20O4. See also W. W„ letter ro School Committee, 
not numbered, 1 9 Dec. 2004. and D. H., letter to School Committee, number 53, IS Nov. 2004. 

l! E. D., "Name one new school after W. £ .B, Du Bois," letter, Berkshire EagltH July 2004. See also H. S., 
"Honoring Du Bois would honor town also." letter, Berkshire Eagle V July 2004; K. B. and D. A., "Honot 
scholar and rights pioneer," lettet. Berkshirt Eagle 14 July 2004; and S. H., "Real explanation for Du Bois 
debate." letter, Berkshire Eagle 24 July 2004. 

Vie Mind's Eye 23 



Constance N. Brooks 

overriding concern. As a site of memory (Nora), the school and its signage helps construct 
the community's identity. One choice — to name the school after Du Bois — would 
frame the community as liberal and tolerant in the North, where commemorarion of 
civil rights leaders is unusual (see Alderman's ["Street"] analysis of streets named after 
Martin Luther King, Jr., which are concentrated in the South). To oppose and exclude 
Du Bois's name would be a choice aligned with a hisrorical trend in New England and 
with a more conventional national identity that honors veterans and white males to 
the exclusion of others. Regardless of the outcome, the process itself held value. Forest 
et al. note, "Critical discussion about the multiple meanings of the forms, functions 
and locations of public places of memory, as well as the pasts to be remembered, may 
be a process through which past injustices can be confronted to work through cultural 
rrauma (LaCapra 1994), and to imagine different fututes" (360). 

However, loyaity to the local area was also celebrated, and consequently many 
writers focused on Du Bois's loyalty to Great Barrington. In conrrast to letters that 
sought to pottray Du Bois as subversive, others positioned him a? a native and as one 
who loved his hometown. Portraying Du Bois as an insider, one writet maintains: 

His fond feeling for the town where he was born and grew up, testifies to the 
way he must have been treared here ar a time when race relations in other 
places were far from just or kind. It would honor the man and the town. 1 - 1 

Ihis quotation demonstrates that wrirers ried Du Bois's fondness for his hometown ro 
tolerant racial attitudes of Great Barrington. It is part of a process to reveal the town as 
a racially benign place. Another writer declares: 

Great Barrington is the heart of Du Bois' life. His family heritage is here 
rhrough his beloved mother and rheir family homestead. Du Bois sent his 
wife, Nina, back to the welcoming shelter of Great Barrington to bear both 
their children. Nina and their cherished son, Burghardr, are borh buried in 
the Mahaiwe cemetery. Du Bois wrote lovingly of the surrounding landscape 
and the stretch of the Housatonic which graces Great Barrington. In Du 
Bois' wriring some of his gendest and most poetic words were inspired by 
memories of his life here.'" 1 

Rather than focusing on Du Bois's renowned achievements, this writer focuses 
on his roots in Great Barrington and his love for and loyalty ro it. His comfort with the 
town was revealed by his decision to send his wife there to deliver her children. 

The struggle to commemorate a man who was loyal to the town conflicted with an 
"official" patriotism of the townspeople to the nation. One letrer writer cites Du Bois's 

" S. H., "An honor for Du Bnis and his hometown." Berkshire Eagle 5 July 2004. Sec also B. B., "Good 
idea to name school after Du Bois," Berkshire Eagle 5 July 2004. 

" A. H., "Do the right thing by Du Bois," Berkshire Eagle 29 July 2004. Sec also E. C, "Barringmn's chance to 
tight a wrong," Berkshire Eagle 1 5 July 2005; R. W., "Deface or embrace;" Berkshire Eagle 5 Aug- 2004. 

24 the Mind's Eye 



Constance N. Brooks 



loyalty as reason enough to commemorate him: '"Citizen of Great Barrington, U.S.A. 
According to [H. MJ, these wete the words W. E. B. Du Bois authorized to be put 
on a huge banner for his memorial service in Ghana Wow! How's that for devo- 
tion?" 15 The wrirer makes the point that Du Bois remembered Grcar Barrington even 
in death; yet since his death, Gteat Barrington has forgotten him. Du Bois's fondness 
fur the town of his birth was rarely cired as sufficient cause to commemorate him, bur 
it was an added reason, given his other achievements. )n conttast, a submission ro the 
School Committee remarks that Du Bois is not the only one who loved his hometown, 
and argues, "I would recommend ... the middle school be named after an area military 
person whom died in action. Along with other reasons, [B. D.) supports Dr. Du Bois 
because he 'loved his hometown.' There are several local men and women whom have 
paid the ultimate sacrifice and loved both their hometown an 
of memory become focal points for dh 
of support and contestation; in this case, what and who were labeled democratic and 
patriotic were subject to much discussion. 

Several writers focused on Du Bois's exile and questionable patriotism to 
emphasize his status as an alien and "other." Others stressed his status as an insider and 
one whose love for and loyalty to Great Barrington never flagged. How does a town 
commemorate a man who became disloyal ro his country but remained steadfast to his 
hometown? The question of whose ideas of patriotism and democracy would be marked 
on the landscape was central. One person's idea of a traitor was another's defendet of 
freedom. A national identity was being consttucted during die school-naming process, one 
that referred back to the creation of an American identity but was also seeking to redefine it. 

The Specter of Communism 

One petson's traitot is another's defender of freedom and rights. Most writers in 
support of Du Bois menrioned his obvious achievements. A smaller number chose to 
focus on the controversial elements of his life to show that even considering those, Du 
Bois's overarching politics were patriotic. Quite often the debate revolved around his 
decision to join the Communist Party in 1961. For some, to espouse anything other 
than democratic and capitalistic ideals was tantamount to treason. For others, freely 
rhinking and acting on your beliefs represented the height of democracy, especially if it 
was in the face of pressure from the state to do otherwise, Du Bois's pol ides were framed 
in opposing ways. Objections to his Communist politics were tied to a racializing of 
communism and a politicizing of civil rights that circulated in the mid-2oth century 
and was evident in the recent debare. 

One writer cites a passage from Du Bois's autobiography in which he fondly 
recalled artending town meetings in Great Barrington as a youth: 



15 E I_, "Return loyalty shown by Du Bois," later, Berkshire Fjsglr 26 Apt. 2005. 
lS W. W., letter 10 School Committee, not numbered , 1 9 Dec. 2004- 



The Mind's Eye 25 



Constance N. Brooks 



"Gradually as I grew up, I began to see that this was the essence of democracy: 
listening to the other man's opinion and then voting your own, honestly and 
intelligently." 17 

Hie writer portrays Du Bois as a proponent of a symbol of the very essence of 
American democracy. This reference to the openness and democratic ideal of the town 
meeting had particular resonance in the context of the School Committee's process of 
naming the schools, where members of the public were not necessarily free to speak 
and where the decision was made by the ten School Committee representatives, not 
by a vote of constituents. The letter writer emphasizes that Du Bois learned, about and 
appreciated the democratic ideal when he lived in Great Harrington, His future views are 
not a concern, as long as Great Barrington once nurtured a love of democracy in Du Bois. 

Another writer, taking in the totality of Du Boiss life, commends his accomplish- 
ments, which include the pursuit of 'equality and freedom": 

It will do honor to our .school district and to our county if one of the schools 
carries the name of this great American [W. E. B. Du Boisj who accomplished 
so much in the name of equality and freedom. tE 

However, for many residents, Du Boiss allegiance to communism provided the 
sole basis for their objection to his commemoration. Whether this was an echo of the 
objections to the boyhood- homesite dedication in the late 1960s or a slowly dying 
rem nan r of McCarthyism in general, the strength of the objection was no less power- 
ful in contemporary times. Regardless of the historical cause, privileging communism 
in any way was not an identity that members of this community wished to embrace. 
The objection to communism was a near- universal feature of the news coverage of the 
naming debate, such as in the following article: 

In the debate among adults in the community, some residents and school 
officials have questioned the propriety of naming the schools for DuBois. 
Near the end of his 95 years, DuBois joined the American Communist Party, a 
move that continues to generate controversy in South County to this day. ]L| 

l.n another article, he is noted only as the "former Lenin Peace Prize winner,"- 
emphasizing his Communist ties above his other accomplishments. A letter writer la- 
ments, 'How soon we forget Dubois died a Communist and was not even a citizen of 
the United States at the time." 23 Forest et al. note, "For societies undergoing political 
transition, place-making and memory processes are significant spatial practices through 

p Du Bois qtd. in D. L.. "Memorialize DuBois' contributions' letter, Berk-hive Record 1 H Feb. 2005. 
IB R. V, letter to the Superintendent of Schools, number 55, 2 Nov. 2004. 

h> Kelley, E., "Suggested names For 2 new schools keep on growing,' Berkshire Record 12 Dec. 2004. 
■^Tolman, M_, "Selection or names for two new schools sparks controversy.'' Berkshire Record 21 Jin. 2005- 
11 C. R. T "Plenty of DuBois reminders, 1 ' Berkshire Record \% Mar. 2005. 
26 The Mind's Eye 



Constance N. Brooks 



which the national past is reconstructed and through which political and social change 
may be negotiated" (358). Political tension, if not transition, existed in Berkshire County, 
The censure of Du Bois's political beliefs resonated with some individuals opposed to 
President George V/. Bush's policies. Several inrerviewees identified themselves as politi- 
cal liberals and likened their anti-Bush stance to Du Bois's dissenting political beliefs 
and consequent harassment. 22 Likewise, for a generation that remembers the Cold Wat 
and was subject to its propaganda, the recent debate served as a place of negoriarion for 
memories. 

Objections to Du Bois's Communist stance may not have seemed ro be about 
race, but examined more closely, they revealed a racial undertone. Noakes points out 
that historically, anticommunisr projects were often tied to efforts to subdue civil rights 
progress. He states, "In its interpretation of how racial dynamics were portrayed in 
movies, the FBI associated whiteness with Americanism and blackness with subversion' 
(732). Blacks "were understood as having only a fragile commitment to American values 
and traditions and therefore as vulnerable to the seductive, if false promises of radicals" 
including, of course, Communists (730) . Ellen Schrccker discusses many of the tropes 
that were employed during the Cold War by the government. "Communism, the FBI 
and many Americans assumed, automatically endowed someone with a propensity for 
destruction," she notes (1054). Schrecker ties the fear-mongering of the McCatthy eta to 
several "racial projects," not least an opposition to the civil rights movement. She states, 
"Because the Communist party had been strongly committed to racial equality, many 
loyalty investigators believed that party members could be identified by theif support 
for civil rights and participation in interracial activities" (1067), 

Compared with the media covetage of the boyhood-home dedication in the late 
1 960s, there has been a softening view towatd communism. However, objections to Du 
Bois's Communist politics contained a racial undertone, tied to a racializing of com- 
munism and a politicizing of civil rights that occurred in the mid-20th century and 
still circulates today. 

Voting for Muddy Waters 

In Januaty 2005, in a vote that was pointedly not unanimous (6-4), the Berkshire 
Hills Regional School Committee chose to name one of rwo newly constructed buildings 
the Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School. This act culminared months of vociferous 
debate among community members over the contested commemoration of W. E. B. Du 
Bois. Far more than a simple, inconsequential decision, the question of whethet or not 
to commemorate Du Bois by naming the school, part of Great Barrington's symbolic 
landscape, after him, sparked a controversy revolving around issues of public memory, 
racial politics, patriotism, regional and national identities and education of children. 
Momentum for Du Bois commemoration had builr, and in May 2005, Great Barrington 
residents voted by a factor of two to one to etect signs on major auto routes declaring 
" Interview notes. "D and F." 

The Mind's Eye 27 



Constance N. Brooks 



Great Barrington the hometown of Du Bois. Of course, Great Barringtans process of 
com memo raring Du Bois is hardly "concluded." As Dwyers theory of symbolic accretion 
shows* Du Bois-related commemorative sites will continue to undergo transformation 
and gain new meanings in. years to come. 

Drawing on Jonathan Leib's notion of "symbolic landscape/' my analysis focused 
on one aspect of Great Barringtons symbolic landscape, the public school name. 1 argued 
that the school's name could be read as a "memorial text" (Dwyer Symbolic), shaped by the 
community, but also imbued with power to frame the future identity of the town (Cosgrove; 
Cosgrove and Daniels), The naming controversy highlighted competing views of the towns 
symbolic landscape, and how multiple social groups attempted to negotiate that shared 
symbolic space ( Till- Hayden). 

Drawing on Melish, I argue that objections to Du Boiss commemoration in Great 
Barrington resonated with a historical trend of excluding blacks from the landscape of 
"white, free" New England.. This exclusion was confirmed by a dominant place-name 
hegemony consisting of geographical place names and buildings named after dead white 
males. This hegemony conflicted with a desire to portray rhe community as liberal and 
racially tolerant. Some residents felt proud that a great thinker, educator and promoter 
of civil rights was nurtured in this place. Others wanted to disown Du Bois's connec- 
tion to the town and distance themselves from a racial and political ""other." The issue 
of race became a polarizing force, placing local government officials on the defensive in 
rhe bice of allegations of racism made by members of rhe public. 

Race, politics, identity and patriotism blurred in Great Barringtons controversy. 
Objections to Du Bois's politics reflected a national, historic racializing of communism 
(Noakes; Schrecker; Home). This trend reemerged in the contemporary debate and 
combined with an unfavorable evaluation of Du Bois's patriotism. Proponents of Du 
Bois's name for the school tied their support to his defense of civil liberties in the face 
oFharassment, while others described his actions as unpatriotic, verging on treasonous. 
The naming controversy provided an opportunity for negotiation of memories of the 
Gold War and McCarthyism, part of an overall exploration of the town's currenr iden- 
tity. The school name became an example of Nora's tieux de memoir?, for a national 
identi ty was being constructed, one that referted back to the creation of an American 
identity but was also seeking to redefine it. 

The school-naming controversy and contested commemoration of Du Bois was an 
example of negotiation over a landscapes symbolic value, The controversy highlighted the 
exclusion of blacks from New England's symbolic landscape, the power of memorials and 
landscape to articulate regional and national identities. Most striking, the naming controversy 
in Great Barrington is a contemporary example of Melishs theories of the historic exclusion 
of blacks in the physical and symbolic New England landscape. The town's attemprs to com- 
memorate its past culminated in a social process contesting contemporary identities. Ultimately, 
it will affect die future of the town — as the children who participated in the debate eventually 
reflect, debate and decide on their own version of the past and vision of the future. 
28 The Minds Eye 



Constance N. Brooks 



Select Bibliography 

Alderman, Derek H. "New Memorial Landscapes in the Americn Sonth: An 
Introduction." The Professional Geographer 52.4 (2000): 658-60. 

. "A Street Fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the 

American South." The Professional Geographer 52,4 (2000): 672-84. 

Berkshire Eagle.com. http://www.berkshireeagle.com. Berkshire Eagle archive. 

Dates consulted: 1 June 2004-31 May 2005. Page last accessed: 8 Aug. 2005. 

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Administtation Offices. New School Name 
Submissions (lixel spreadsheet), School Naming Essay Submissions and Let- 
ters Submitted to Supetintendent of Schools/School Committee 2004-2005. 
Prepared For Special School Committee meeting 18 Jan. 2005. 

Berkshire Hills Regional School District Administration Offices. School Committee 
Meeting Minutes and Addenda. Dates consulted: 1 June 2004-31 May 2005. 

Cosgrove, Denis: "Landscape and the European Sense of Sight — Eyeing Nature." 
Handbook of Cultural Geography. Ed, Kay Anderson et al. London: Sage, 2003. 
249-68. 

, and Stephen Daniels, eds. The Iconography of Landscape. Cambridge: 

Cambridge UP, 1997. 
Drew, B. Fifty Sites in Great Harrington, Massachusetts. Associated with the Civil Rights 

Activist W. B. fi Du Bois. Lakeville, CT: Lakeville Journal, 2002. 
Du Bois, W. E. B., Memorial Committee archive. Collection privately held. 
Dwyer, OwenJ. "Interpreting the Civil Rights Movement: Place, Memory, and Conflict." 

The Professional Geographer 52.4 (2000) ; 660-7 1 . 
. "Symbolic Acctetion and Commemoration." Social & Cultural Geography 5.3 

(2004): 419-35. 

Fletchet, R. "W. E. B . Du Bois Memorial Committee." African American Heritage in the 
Upper Housatonic Valley. Ed. David Levinson, 33-36. Cochaired by R. Fletcher 
and F. Jones-Sneed. Great Batrington, MA: Upper Housatonic Valley National 
Heritage Area, 2005. 

Foote, Kenneth E. Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes sf Violence and 
Tragedy. Austin: U of Texas P, 2003. 

Forest, Benjamin, Juliet Johnson and Karen Till. "Post-Totalitarian National Identity: 
Public Memory in Germany and Russia." Social & Cultural Geography 5.3 
(2004): 357-80. 

Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. 

Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1995. 
Home, Gerald. Black & Red: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the 

Cold War. 1944-1963. Albany: SU of New York P, 1986. 
Johnson, Nuala Christina. Ireland, the Great War, and the Geography of Remembrance. 

Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 

The Minis Eye 29 



Constance N. Brooks 



Leib, Jonathan I. "Separate Times, Shared Spaces: Arthur Ashe, Monument Avenue and 
the Politics of Richmond, Virginia's Symbolic Landscape." Cultural Geographies 

9 (2002): 286-312. 

Mason Library, Great Barrington, MA. Berkshire Record microfilm. Dates consulted: 1 

June 2004-31 May 2005. 
Melish, Joanne Pope. Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New 

England, 1780-1860. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998. 
Noakes, J. "Racializing Subversion: The FBI and the Depiction of Race in Early Cold 

War Movies." Ethnic and Racial Studies 26 A (July 2003): 728-49. 
Nora, Pierre. Realms of Memory: The Construction of tire French Past. Vol. 1 : 

Conflicts and Divisions. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. New York: Columbia UP, 

1996. 

Schrecker, Ellen. "McCarrhyism: Political Repression and the Fear of Communism." 

Social Research 7 \. 4 (Winter 2004): 1041-86. 
Till, Karen E. "Returning Home and ro the Field." The Geographical Review 91.1-2 

(Jan.-Apr. 2001): 46-56. 
Upper Hottsaronic Valley African American Heriragc Trail archives. Collection privarely 

held. Also see http://www.uhvafamtrail.org/dcfault.lltml. Page last accessed 

1 Aug. 2005. 



30 7he Mmds Eye 



Transforming Space into 
Time: Narratives of Place in 
The Souls of Black Folk 

BY DAVID J. LANGSTON 



One of the more poignant and deeply felt personal episodes in The Souls ofBhck 
Folk is based on two summers during college that W. E. B. Du Bois spent 
teaching school In the backwoods of Tennessee. Du Boiss autobiographical 
account of the close personal bonds he formed among a community of poor farmers 
confers notable importance on the rural locale in which they all dwell rngerher. With 
his descriptions, Du Bois tenders the place as a charmed circle where discord and the 
clash of modem armies of the night are only distant thunder. Conversely, he also makes 
his readers keenly aware throughout this chapter — whose tide is "Of the Meaning of 
Progress"— that the residents consider their own I i ves to be incomplete. They hunger for 
education not readily available, they must migrate to the city to earn the cash necessary 
to sustain their rural farms and their poverty makes farming vulnerable to both natural 
and social contingencies of weather and commodity prices. 

These disparate and incongruent attitudes that Du Bois displays toward rural 
Tennessee belong to a comprehensive strategy for referring to place in The Soub of Black 
Folk: While he repeatedly uses place as a complex emblem for a mosaic of cultural and 
economic issues, he nonetheless resists hypostasizing a location or even its place name 
as representing ahistorical or transcendent norms rhat remain invulnerable to critique or 
improvement. Instead, he explores the contradictions and negations in the story of places 
such as Atlanta., the Black Belt or even his hometown, Great Barringron , Massachusetts, 
to point toward the transformations that are indispensable for a just social order. 

The Minds Eye 5\ 



David J. Langitvn 

Du Bois's inclination to elevate specific places as emblems of value has attracted the 
notice of his readers n but their prevailing interpretation is to see him making landscapes, 
buildings or regions into embodiments of the spirit of the black community; As James 
Kerkering has recently summarized this argument, Du Eois "associates} the genius loci 
not with the nation but with the race" (Poetics 106). Kerkering's term genius loci links 
Du Bois to a tradition that reaches back to classical times for making place into a sym- 
bol of animating spirit. In the modern era. Neoclassical and Romantic poets invoke 
this older, more multifaceted Roman notion, "spirit of place," to celebrate the totality 
of values and traits that could be summarized by using the name of a particular locale. 
By the middle of the 19th century, well before Du Bois was born, genius loci had been 
expanded into a commonplace for communicating the characteristics of a sociocultural 
formation or the principles of an abstract idea: Invoking the name of a place meant 
invoking the totality of traits associated with that place. 

Those readers who claim that Du Bois resorts to this habit of thoughr in The Souls 
of Black Folk are susceptible to several troubling and oversimplifying interpretations of 
his text. Perhaps most significantly, by giving emphasis to the role of place, Du Bois's 
critics are led into downplaying the historical framework that conditions all of his 
thinking, and it can even lead them to some odd evaluations ot his analysis — a point 
to which I will turn in due course. 

One conclusion toward which this essay presses is uncomplicated; References to 
place in V)C Souls of Black Folk cannot be explained with a single rubric. But the results 
from that proposition lead us toward a more layered, complex reading of the book. 1 
contend that Du Bois assigns several different and distinct functions to place, three of 
which are prominent in Souls: first, a conventional use of genius loci as a static symbol 
of realized values; second, a Romantic appeal to place as rhe embodiment of a "world 
elsewhere"; and, third, place as an organizing figure for Du Bois's historical analysis that 
lays great stress on incompleteness and an open future yet to be realized. 

I 

Reviewing the role of place in The Souls of Black Folk should properly begin by 
recognizing that Du Bois does indeed use the conventions at genius loci at points in 
his text. As the scholarship of Houston Baker, John Kerkering and Robert Stepto has 
demonstrated, Du Bois follows the widespread practice that modernizes and psycholo- 
gizes the classical trope by using places as contemporary embodiments of historically 
embedded values. And while I think this method of reading occasionally leads these 
scholars to overlook important distinctions in Du Bois's use of place as a representational 
code, it remains true that he avails himself of rhe standard system. One commonly cited 
example of the genius loci in Souls is Du Bois's reference to Fisk's Jubilee Hall in the 
opening paragraph of the "Sorrow Songs" chapter. 

Ever since 1 was a child these songs have stirred me strangely. They came out 
of the South unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew them as of" 
32 The Mind's Eye 



David j. Langsttm 

me and of mine. Then in after years when I came to Nashville I saw the great 
temple builded of these songs towering over the pale ciry. To me Jubilee Hall 
seemed ever made of the songs themselves, and its bricks were red with the 
blood and dust of toil. Out of them rose for me morning, noon, and night, 
bursts of wonderful melody, full of the voices of my brothers and sisters, full 
of the voices of the past. (155) 

This college structure endures as the synchronic monument, a "temple," to the 
totality of his response to songs that Du Bois has encountered as a dbchronic series 
("one by one"). Its durable presence unifies a cluster of virtues that might otherwise 
be dispersed, isolated and even lost in both time and space. If rhe building's physical 
appearance represents roil and suffering, irs melodies represent the spirits capacity to 
transcend and to transform that brutal past, celebrating the present while maintaining 
a link to the past. In anriciparion of the argument I will pursue below regarding the 
historical contextualizing of place to give it an open future, it is important to note here 
that Jubilee Hall remains as a vehicle for delivering past achievements to ensuing genera- 
tions. In this instance, place supplies both a formal illustration of those achievements 
and a shorthand term for invoking their example. And that emphasis on place as index 
for perpetuating past achievement is, I think, the best one-phrase definirion for place 
rendered in the rhetoric of genius tad. 

II 

Du Bois makes infrequenr use of place as a symbol for romanticized wotld out- 
side historical time; but in describing his stint at summerrime teaching in the Tennes- 
see hills, he adopts a set of complementary strategies to communicate his sense of this 
realm, backwoods Tennessee, as a "charmed circle." For one, he begins the chapter wirh 
the time-honored formula for the suspension of disbelief: "Once upon a rime I taught 

school in the hills of Tennessee " Hie phrase "once upon a time" signals a calculated 

move away from the sharp critique of Booker T. Washington that consumes rhe prior 
chaprer, and it suggests that the narrative to follow occupies a place outside ordinary 
time in some fictional neverland beyond the teach of pedestrian cause and effect. To 
be sure, there is an ironic dimension to the phrase whereby Du Bois calls attention to 
the callow self-importance of a college freshman setting off to enlighten the primitive 
backwoods. And rhat same intermixing of mock-heroic and appreciative rones marks 
the subsequent description of his foray into rutal Tennessee. 

I was a Fisk student then, and all Fisk men though t that Tennessee — beyond 
the Veil — was theirs alone, and in vacation time they sallied forth in hisry 
bands to meet the county school-commissioners. Young and happy, I too 
went, and I shall not soon forger that summer, seventeen yeats ago. (46) 

The college-age Du Bois shares a common expectation held by a privileged cadre, 
"Fisk men," that they are licensed ro enter a special reserve, another realm insulated 

The Mind's Eye 51 



David J. langston 

from the schedules and tedium of modern life or academic routine. It is a region so re- 
mote — "shut out from the world by the forests and the rolling hills toward the east" — that 
it lies "beyond railways, beyond stage lines." However, this world is less Edenic than it 
is "Oriental" in Edward Said's analysis of that term to signify exotic, dangerous other- 
ness: The Fisk men enter a territory with hidden hazards and enigmatic people, a "land 
of varmints' and rattlesnakes, where the coming of a stranger was an event, and men 
lived and died in the shadow of one blue hill" (Du Bois 46). 

To reach this exotic locale beyond the reach of modern modes of travel requires 
Du Bois, first, to undergo an ordeal and, second, to receive aid from a donor fig- 
ure — two of the major elements that Vladimir Propp identified 50 years ago as essen- 
tial to a folk tale (47-52). The ordeal occurs when, unable to afford a horse, he must 
plod deeper into the mountains because all the teaching posts near Nashville have 
been taken. The assistance from the traditional "donor" a person he calls josie, occurs 
when she alerts him to the potential for a school in the next valley. Her advice pro- 
pels him across yet one more boundary — a high hill from whose peak he can glimpse 
other worlds in other valleys in "the blue and yellow mountains stretching toward the 
Carolines" — that removes him further from cosmopoliran Nashville, followed by a 
"plunge ' into the woods and an eventual arrival at the farmer's cabin where Josie iives. 
And threaded through the remainder of the chaprer is the same ironically rendered lan- 
guage of romanticized otherness that was a staple of local color and regional fiction in 
fin-de-siecle America: A village "cuddles" next to its hill, the valley is 'shut out from the 
world by the forests," his pupils 'patter' to his school rather than trudge, the bedbugs 
wander in "herds," the water "jingles" while the sun "laughs," "great chinks" herween 
the logs of the school serve as "windows/' In every case, Du Bois constructs himself as 
the privileged outside observer — a tourist of sorts— peeping into a world of diminutive 
otherness whose details are all integral to an overall charmed totality. 

But once Du Bois turns to describing rhe inhabitants of this land, he sidesteps 
momentarily the two-dimensional primitivist stereotypes that regularly appear in the 
rhetoric of the charmed circle and instead describes each person's unique traits that 
individuate them. 

There remained two growing girls; a shy midger of eight; John, tall, awkward, 
and eighteen; Jim, younger, quicker, and better looking; and two babies of 
indefinite age + Then there was Josie herself. She seemed to be the centre of 
rhe family: always busy at service, or at home, or berry- picking; a little ner- 
vous and inclined to scold, like her mother, yet faithful, too, like her Father. 
She had about her a certain fineness, the shadow of an unconscious moral 
heroism that would willingly give all of life to make life broadet, deepet, and 
fuller for her and hers. (47) 

By directing the reader's attention to a shared desire for a broader and deeper 
life, Du Bois retains a historical frame for describing the occupants even while he has 

34 The Mind's Eye 



David j. Langsta: 



characterized their dwelling place as beyond the reach of historical progress. To be sure, 
there is an early hint of primirivism when Du Bois says that Josiefs aspirations remain 
"unconscious," but in the contest of the overall argument of Souis, it is fair to say thaT 
Du Bois thinks that a program of education, the franchise and social inclusion will 
bring those unconscious strivings to self-conscious articulation. (One can also discern 
the outline of Du Bois's residual Hegelian habits of thought in this characterization of 
unconscious aspiration: Hie social underclass — analogous to Hegel's "antithesis"— will 
reach self- consciousness by formalizing forces already at work, unconsciously, in the 
minds and social behavior of the underclass.) 

When he turns to schooling, Du Bois implements a program of study that plays out 
this tension between place and narrative: The stories the students hear focus on the "world 
beyond the hill" (48). As a place, the charmed circle of "the hill" may, like Brigadoon, 
exist outside history's March of Progress, but its inhabitants are subject to the rigors of 
inequality and economic exploitation that ate part of the nation's larger story. Further, 
the charming quaintness that Du Bois attaches to this rural retreat is transformed into a 
simple harsh reality when rhe spirit of another place — New England — -is juxtaposed with 
the world of Tennessee, in describing the com shed that once acted as the schoolhouse, 
Du Bois also remembers his sharp awareness of a contrast between two places: 

My desk was made of three boards reinforced at critical points, and my chair, 
borrowed from rhc landlady, had to be returned every night. Seats for the 
children — these puzzled me much. I was haunted by a New England vision 
of neat little desks and chairs, bur, alas! the reality was rough plank benches 
without backs, and at times without legs. They had the one virtue of making 
naps dangerous, — possibly ratal, for the floor was not to be trusted. (48) 

One place, New England, symbolizes qualities that become a de facto standard 
of judgment external to the Tennessee hills, and the contrast in places highlights the 
defects that make the lives or his students precarious. It is important to observe here 
that Du Bois's memoir is caught up in a nostalgic reverie for this absent world only up 
to the point when the spirit of an alternative place jolts him into a recognition of the 
limits of his lost world. 

The yen for a lost rural homeland that is so prom inent in late- 1 9th-century Ameri- 
can local-color writing becomes more prominent in the chapter's closing paragraphs as 
Du Bois recounts a visit he made to the valley ten years later while attending a reunion at 
Rsk University. The outsider from the city Du Bois goes back to the country to become 
a witness to a world in decline. His nostalgia for the lost spirit — "I paused to scent rhe 
breeze as I entered the valley" — that once animated this countryside informs rhese de- 
scriptions. Josie is dead, her brother is imprisoned and her family has scattered. Unwed 
mothers populate the landscape and coarse newcomers preoccupied with conspicuous 
displays of their new wealth have replaced the sturdy, abstemious yeoman farmers of 
yesterday. Those few among Du Boiss former associates who prospered have done so 

The Mind's Eye 35 



David!. I.angston 

by migrating to another place. While the people have disappeared or been damaged 
by racial exclusion, the place remains to remind him of a valued but vanishing social 
formation for which the cosmopolitan observer grieves. 

The thematic center of this elegiac reflection on place is dramatized when Du Bois 
visits the site of his old school: "My log schoolhouse was gone. In its place stood Prog- 
ress; and Progress, 1 understand, is necessarily ugly." The newly minted school, made of 
"jaunty" boards and graced now by three windows and a door that locks, now "perches" 
on its foundation. The benches inside still have no backs, but the blackboard is bigger 
and the county now owns the property. But even with all the modern advantages 
to which Du Bois, rhe cosmopolite, is committed, the forces of an impersonal Progress 
have dislodged an old spirit of place to which he finds himself, somewhat paradoxically, 
attached: "As I sat by the spring and looked on the Old and the New I felt glad, very glad, 
and yet—" The ellipsis that concludes that sentence reveals the profound ambivalence 
that marks rhe consideration of place at the close of this episode of Souls (52). 

Embracing this nostalgic attitude of the local colorist without irony or equivocation, 
Du Bois enlatges on the early hints of ptimitivism and tutns to celebrate the ahistorical 
moraliry of the hill's longtime occupants: 

So 1 hutried on, thinking of the Butkes. They used to have a cerrain mag- 
nificent barbarism about them that I liked. They wete never vulgar, never 
immoral, but tathet rough and primitive, with an unconventionality that 
spent itself in loud guffaws, slaps on the back, and naps in the corner, . . . 
Then I came to the Butkes' gate and peered thtuugh; the enclosure looked 
rough and untrimmed, and yet there were the same fences around the old 
farm save to the left, whetc lay rwenty-five orher acres. And lo! rhe cabin 
in the hollow had climbed the hill and swollen to a half-finished sbt-foom 
cottage. (53) 

liven the "primitive" Butkes have improved their material condition by expanding 
from cabin to cottage, but these primitive paragons have also been subject to historical 
forces that have led to division and decline in the family. 

Du Bois concludes the chapter by turning away from considering place to meditate 
on the mutability of time and the mockery of a historical Progress that promises steady 
improvement but leaves so many people dead in irs wake. 

My journey was done, and behind me lay hill and dale, and Life and 1 Jeath. 
How shall man measure Progress there whete rhe dark-faced Josie lies? How 
many heartfuls of sorrow shall balance a bushel of wheat? How hard a thing 
is life to the lowly, and yet how human and teal! And all this life and love 
and strife and failure, — is it the twilight of nightfall or the flush of some 
faint-dawning day? 

Thus sadly musing, I tode to Nashville in the Jim Crow car. (53) 



36 Iht Mind's Eye 



DaviA ]. Langitim 



Grieving after witnessing firsthand the loss of emblematic power in this special 
place, Do Bois leaves it behind and has reentered historical time, traveling, he reminds 
us, in the Jim Crow car, a badge of rhe degradation of that historical moment. Like the 
local-color writers, he also muses with vague apprehension over the futility of Ti me that 
has demonstrated its potential for overwhelming and transforming beyond recognirion 
the charm of a place that he continues, even as he leaves, to hold sacred and invest with 
the wistful yearning for a Space that could exist outside the harsh demands of living 
in Time. 

Ill 

The thitd role Du Bois assigns to place in The Souls oflikck Folk consists in serv- 
ing as organizing figure for complex historical transformations that have both a storied 
past and a qualitatively different future. In this third use of place, locations symbol™ 
neither a permanent benchmark of excellence nor a cozy rerreat from the hatsh rigors 
of historical burdens; rather, in this third use, place is positioned as a perpetually mov- 
ing threshold between past values and futute values, and the story of that conversion is 
central to the importance of place metaphors as a tool for thinking. 

Du Bois signals this more complex and contingent attitude toward place with his in- 
troduction of the city in the opening line of the chapter "Of the Wings of Atalanta": 

South of the North, yet north of the South, lies the City of a Hundred Hills, 
peering out from the shadows of the past into the promise of the future. (54) 

Occupying a median position in both space (north/south) and time (past/future), 
the city carries a symbolic force that Du Bois links to its positionality. It is neither of 
the Norrh nor of the South entirely, but, by virtue of its position exterior to both, it 
also patticipares in a few of the traits of each: industrialism of the North, marketplace 
for southern cotton, for instance. 

Atlanta's past and futute are equally alien to each other, and the dry — as symbol 
of the spirit of its age — is poised on the knife-edge of choice between that shadowy 
past and bright future. How much of its degraded, dark past will the city combine with 
newly emerging realities in a unified identity that is taking shape even as Du Bois writes? 
This whirl of Hegelian dialectical thinking in Du Bois's analysis is made even stronger in his 
subsequent discussion where he emphasizes the spirit of self-interest and greed that animates 
an entire society, for which Atlanta stands as emblem, lather than give a detailed analysis of 
its political economy. 

To communicate the chatacter of that spirit and to stress its evolving disposition, 
however, Du Bois depends on making Atlanta rhe axis of several overlapping narrative 
structures, The first is a conceit he develops between the budding commercial spirit of 
the South as highlighted in the mythical tale of the winged huntress, Atalanta, who has 
announced that she will many only the man who defeats her in a footrace. She eventually 
loses a race to Hippomenes, who slyly induces her to stop short of her goal by strewing 

The Mind's Eye }7 



David j. Lmgston 

the racecourse with golden apples. Du Bote draws an unambiguous moral from Atalanta's 
deed: Pausing in the race (a term Du Bois plays on heavily) for short-term gain, she 
has traduced her high-minded virtue. But as a rhetorical figure, the myth of Atalanta 
twines around another narrative recounting the transition of southern agrarian feudalism 
into modern industrial capitalism. And the city, Atlanta, symbolizes the choice in both 
narratives, occupying the historical crossroad where the South is choosing between a 
"finer type of Southerner" and "vulgar money- getters" — nobility and honor on one side, 
"pretence and ostentation" on the other (56). Atlanta, the place, "typifies" this narrative 
of historical forces coming from a past that is far from exemplary and headed toward 
a future that is tar from destined. Place serves as convenient shorthand for a complex 
historical process whose story remains unresolved and open-ended. 

Near the chapter's midpoint, Du Bois brings to the fore yet another place whose 
narrative is less prominent in the new Sooth but that functions as a counterweight to the 
growing spirit of selfishness and greed possessing capitalist Atlanta. On a single Atlanta 
hill not "crowned" with a factory stands Atlanta University, a place symbolizing the values 
of scholarly balance, proportion and pursuit of ideals of justice, order and hard work. 

On one [hill], toward the west, the setting sun throws three buildings in bold 
relief against the sky. The beauty of rhe group lies in its simple unity: — a 
broad lawn of green rising from rhe red street with mingled roses and peaches; 
north and south, two plain and stately halls; and in the midst, half hidden 
in ivy, a larger building, boldly graceful, sparingly decorated, and with one 
low spire. It is a restful group, — one never looks for more; it is all here, all 
intelligible. (58) 

Emphasizing the modesty and lack of ostentation in its building, Du Bois presents 
the university as unfolding a rival narrative over against Atlanta's quest for gold. As a 
place; the university represents a self- disciplined and even ascetic contradiction to the 
commercial spirit of the city. By sharpening the contrast between these two competing 
places, Du Bois extends his critique of Booker T. Washington's program of vocational 
education. The "true college," says Du Bois, "will ever have one goal , — not to earn meat, 
but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes" (58-59). Du Bois docs 
not spurn vocational education altogether, but Atlanta University will provide the social 
and cultural leadership for the commercial enterprise. 

The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to 
furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it 
is, above ah\ to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and 
the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of 
civilization. (60) 

Du Bois then closes his defense of a liberal-arrs education by returning to the 
organizing narrative of Atalanta's disappointing decision to stoop for the gold. But now 

38 The Mind's Eye 



David J. Langston 

he changes the narrative itself, giving Aralanta and Atlanta both a diffetent future. The 
university, he declares, will serve as the "wings of Atalanta" for the new South: "They 
alone can bear the mai den past the temptation of golden fruit" (60). The narrative not 
only lends the place its emblematic importance but is itself capable of amendment to 
imagine a better futute than the one the nartative authorizes. 

Dougherty County, Georgia, is another place with a distinctive figurative role in The 
Souk of Black Folk. In two important chapters, "Of the Black Belt" and "Of the Quest 
of the Golden Fleece," Du Bojs ties bis analysis to events, persons or observations he 
made while traveling thtough that county. Further, the county crops up at other points 
in Souls to illustrate the impact that both inadequate education and economic exclu- 
sion have had on the life of Negroes in the rural South. Du Bois places such emphasis 
on Dougherty County because it is the center of a state where "now and yesterday, 
the Negro problems have seemed to be centeted. . . ." But even if the county stands as 
the "centet of the center," its historical function, not its location, is Du Bois's ptimary 
concern. Mis repeated strategy in analyzing the county is to interleave descriptions of 
place with the historical backstory from which the place derives its emblematic relevance, 
so that when he calls the county "historic gtottnd," his method in fact reverses the order of 
the terms: Place derives its importance from its historical context (75). 

Du Bois's depiction of the county seat, Albany, epitomizes his method. Having 
located the region with his favored formula of in-between — "rwo hundred miles south 
of Atlanta, two hundred miles west of the Atlantic" — and then, identifying Albany's 
position at a bend in the Flint River, he moves quickly to its histoty: Andrew Jackson 
crossed the Flint to "avenge the Indian Massacre at Fort Mims" and to expropriate the 
Cteek lands for Georgia, setting the stage for a flood of white settlers after the panic 
of 1837 who deported the Indians (76-77). Against that natrative backdrop, Du Bois 
inserts a sociological observation oil Albany's racial divide: A city with a mainly white 
population is sutrounded by a black peasantry who stream into town on Saturdays for 
shopping and entertainment. But then Du Bois instigates an unusual rhetorical reversal; 
rather than treat the black population as the tesidents of a countryside with all its presumed 
timeless, pastoral rhythms, he extends the definition of "city" to the country. 

Once upon a time we knew country life so well and city life so little, that 
we illustrated city life as that of a closely crowded country district. Now the 
world has well-nigh fotgotten what the country is, and we must imagine a 
little city of black people scattered far and wide over thtee hundred lonesome 
square miles of land, without train or trolley, in the midst of cotton and corn, 
and wide patches of sand and gloomy soil. (77-78) 

With his familiar "once upon a time" gambit, Du Bois coaxes his readers toward 
considering Dougherty's country peasants as inhabiting a sprawling urban landscape. 
As with any city, the county will have founding moments, a unique development and 
an open future. Moreover, by establishing an urban frame for his ensuing tour through 

7hf Mind's Eye 39 



David J. Langston 

the county, he renders his analysis as an inventory of urban blight. Rather than a ritual 
journey through a sequence of fixed stations, Du Bois's sociological and economic survey 
of Dougherty County evaluates its historical moment. Victimized by "systematic modern 
land-grapping," rack-rents and financial swindles, the black population is participating 
in an ongoing transformation; its current despair is not a permanent condition. And 
there are causes for hope: The Bolton prison farm lies in ruins, an English syndicate that 
began its enterprise after the Civil War is now bankrupt; and Du Bois even departs from 
one stock farm with the "comfortable feeling that the Negro is rising" (84). The crucial 
point is that Du Bois docs not treat Dougherty County as a place exempt from historical 
change; rather, the story of the place is paramount and its geographical settings are tropes 
whose meanings change with the rise and fall of slavery, the ebb and flow of economic 
prosperity and the impending "untold story' 1 that is "shadowed with a tragic past, and big 
with future promiser (81). 

IV 

It is important to observe that Du Bois gives greatest prominence to place in 
the middle chapteis of The Souls of Black Folk. The initial three chapters adopt a mote 
conceptual focus, where he lays out his theory of double consciousness and delivers his 
stinging rebuke of Booker T. Washington's accommodationist strategy. However, the 
middle chapters delve into the conditions that shape the current situation for African- 
Americans, and Du Bois employs several wide-ranging strategies that employ place 
as a convenient figure for the story of African-American striving that remains the book's 
central concern. In yoking narrative to place, Du Bois reframes the received traditions for 
regarding place as a static memorial to achieved values that merit uncritical emulation 
in the future. By emphasizing the human story that is alteady under way in a place and 
that will eventually transform the locale into a qualitatively different reality, he shifts 
the focus on place from commemoration of the past to an anticipation of its future. 
This approach toward the intersection of place and narrative keeps Du Bois more firmly 
aligned with the historicism of the 19th century that persistently sought to reveal the 
contours of a universal human drama. Further, that alignment with historicism makes 
his methods work against the grain of the modernists of his own time who elevated 
place as the element that controls the shape and contour of narrative. 

Works Cited and Consulted 

Baker, Houston A., Jr. The journey Back: Issues in Black Literature and Criticism. 

Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980. 
. Long Black Sang: Essays in Black American Literature and Culture. 

Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1972. 



40 The Mind's Eye 



David], Latig&on 



Dainntto, Roberto Mark. Place in Literature: Regions, Cultures, Communities. 
Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2000. 

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Block Folk. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Terri 
Hume Oliver. New York: Norton, 1999. 

Fetterley, Judith, and Marjorie Pryse. Writing Out of Place: Regionalism, Women, 
and American Literary Culture. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2003. 

Harrman, Geoffrey H. "Romantic Poetry and the Genius Loci." Beyond Formalism: 
Literary Essays, 1958-1970. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1970. 31 1-36. 

Jaffe, Kineret. "The Concept of Genius: Its Changing Role in Eighteenth-Century French 
Aesthetics." Journal of the History of Ideas 41.4 (Oct. 1980): 579-99. 

Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971 . 

Kerkering, John D. "American Renaissance Poetry and the Topos of Positionality: Ge- 
nius Mundi and Genius Loci in Walt Whitman and William Gilmore Sirnms." 
Victorian Poetry 43.2 (2005): 223-48. 

. '(he Poetics of National and Racial Identity in Nineteenth-Century Amerian Lit- 
erature. New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 

Lawrence, D. H. The Plumed Serpent, Ed. L. D. Clark. New York: Cambridge 
UP, 1987. 

Lerner, Alan Jay, and Frederick Loewe. Brigadoon. New York: Coward-McCann, 
1947. 

Lewis, David Levering. WE. ft Du Bois— Biography of a Race, 1868-1 9 19. 

New York: Holt, 1993. 
. W. E. B. Du Bois: Lhc Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963. 

New York: Holt, 2000. 
Lurwack, Leonard. The Role of Place in Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1 984. 
Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. Trans. Laurence Scott. Austin: U of Texas 

P, 1968. 

Rampersad, Arnold. The Art and Imagination ofW. E. B. Du Bois. Cambridge, MA: 

Harvard UP, 1976. 
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994. 
Siemerling, Winfried. "W. E, B. Du Bois, Hegel, and the Staging of Alterity." 

Callaloo24.\ (2001): 325-33. 
Stepto, Robert B . From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro- American Narrative. 

Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1979. 
Torgovnick, Marianna. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives. 

Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1 990. 
Zamir, Shamoon. Dark Voices; W. E. B. Du Bois and American Thought, 1888-1903- 

Chicago: U of Chicago % 1995. 



The Mind's Eye 41 



Desegregating the City of 
Brotherly Love: Raymond 
Pace Alexander and the 
Civil Rights Struggle in 
Philadelphia 

BY DAVID A. CANTON 

The January 1965 issue of The Phihuklphia Evening Bulletin published a 14- 
page study [itled "The Negm in Philadelphia." The Bulletin story recounted 
an experience of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the first African-American 
woman attorney in Pennsylvania, when she was an undergraduate at the University' of 
Pennsylvan ia. In December 1918, Sadie Tanner Mossell asked Raymond Pace Alexander, , 



a classmare, rn escorr her and two friends visiting ftom Cornell University to the movie 




the male friend purchased four tickets 10 the Schubert Theater in downtown Philadelphia. 
The next day, when the young men presented their tickets to the theater's manager, he 
prohibited the four from entering. He told them that thete was a mistake and some 
other people had purchased their rickets for the same seats. Furious, "Alex began excit- 
edly talking in Spanish' and the three othets "chimed in with French phrases." After 
rhey displayed their foreign-language proficiency, the theater manager said, "Why, rhey 
are not Niggers!" and allowed the four students to enter the theatet. Once they entered, 
they looked over at the seats they had purchased and noticed chat they were empry. After 
rhe incident, the two students, Raymond Pace Alexander and Sadie Tanner Mossell, 
declared, "If we ever become lawyers, we are going ro break rhis thing — segregation 
and discrimination. And, yes — we are going to open up rhose resraurants, too. You just 
wait! Just waitl" 1 This "theatet incident" represented just one ot many racial barriers that 
African-Americans encountered during the firsr two decades of the 20th century. 
42 The Mind's Eye 



David A. Canton 



The theater incident occurred six months after W. E. B. Du Bois wrote his famous 
"Close Ranks" editorial for Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Colored People- Du Bois requested that African-Americans must "forget 
our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow 
citizens and rhe allied nations that are fighting for democracy." However, the white 
manager of the theatet in Philadelphia had not read Du Bois's words and insisted on 
maintaining segregation. World War I was fought to make the world safe lot democracy, 
but after rhe war, African-Americans continued ro live in a nation that was unsafe and 
antiblack. Racial hostility ranged from lynching, race riots and murder in the South ro 
dc facro segregarion and humiliation in public accommodations and political margin- 
alizarion in the North. Black postwar expectations led to white backlash. 1 

When Americans reflect on the civil rights srruggle, they immediately think of 
the southern movement, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery/ 
Birmingham, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. from 1865 
ro 1965, the South was politically, socially, economically and culturally committed to 
white supremacy and dc jure segregation. However, according to C, Vann Woodward, 
the New South, ot modern white supremacy, started in Mississippi in 1890. Southern 
Democrats used race to destroy rhe Populist movement and disenfranchise poor whites 
and black voters. In 1890, a number of African-Americans from upper southern states 
such as Maryland and Virginia migrated to Philadelphia. The black population in the 
North had increased, but according to James Loewen, prior to 1890 northern whires 
blamed slavery and racism for black poverty. After slavery and Reconstruction, northern 
whites objected to living alongside African-Americans and blamed them for the nation's 
problems. Moreover, Rayford Logan argues that by 1 890, as the black population in 
northern cities increased, white newspapers became "most preoccupied with crimes 
involving Negroes." Prior to the increase of the black population, white newspapers 
had focused on crimes committed by European immigrants. 1 

I ronkally, it was the 1 908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois, thar prompted white and 
black liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 
(NAACP). Two years before the Springfield riot, a massive race rior occurred in Atlanta; 
but since whites, including liberals, perceived race riots as a "sourhern problem," thete was 
no urgency to form rhe NAACP The grandchildren of the abolitionists were shocked to 
discover that "southern-style racism" existed in the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. Dur- 
ing the Springfield riot, an African-American barber, whose wife was white, had used a 
shotgun to defend himself. The race riotets of the fiOs were young African-American men 
who artacked property in the black community and who viewed the police as enemies. 
'Ihe race riots during the first 40 years of the 20rh century were organized white mobs 
who attacked and brutalized African-American men who allegedly raped white women 
or murdered "uppity Negroes," successful African-Americans who did not know their 
place. According to C. Vann Woodward's seminal text 'Ihe Strange Career of Jim Crow, 
"One of the strangest things about the career of Jim Crow was that the system was born 

The Mind's Eye 45 



David A, Canton 



in the North and reached an advanced age before moving south In force." By 1 830, most 
northern states had abolished slavery and replaced it with segregation, a system that 
denied African- Americans equal access to public resources, funds for education, relief 
and municipal employment. Whites segregated African-Americans in public spaces such 
as parks, theaters and other public accommodations. African-Americans in the North 
struggled continuously for civil rights following Reconstruction and Plessy. 4 

Despite the long history of civil rights activism in the urban North, it was the 
southern movement that caught media attention and spurred national action, The first 
generation of civil rights scholarship used a "top-down 1 ' approach and concentrated on 
male figures such as Mattin Luther King, jr., the role of the federal government and 
civil rights organizations. Charles Eagles argues that since a number of historians had 
participated in die civil rights movement, they were therefore empathetic, which made 
it difficult for them to be critical of the movement leaders, tactics or goals. 5 During 
che past 20 years, civil rights historiography working from the "bottom up," has em- 
phasized the importance of grassroots activists, especially women leaders, and explored 
rhe tensions berween civil rights leaders and organizations. The new approach has 
demonstrated African-American agency and organizational sophistication in southern 
black communities. Moreover, rhis perspective illustrates the federal governments slow 
response to civil rights activists' demands in the South. Historians have also examined 
the Cold War's ambiguous influence on the civil rights movement. Liberals, as well as 
U.S. State Department officials, insisted that segregation was inconsistent with democ- 
racy, but some U.S. officials suggested that Communists had infiltrated the civil rights 
movement. Some civil rights activists connected their struggle to that of Third World 
nations. The civil rights movement fought for the vote and to end Jim Crow, but in 
many communities, African-Americans fought for economic justice, too, fi 

Some scholars argue that the civil rights movement originated during the 1930s, 
which Jacquelyn Dowd Hall refers to as the "long civil rights movement" and Nikhil 
Singh calls the Tong civil rights era." Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal provided 
jobs and opportunities for the black community. The New Deal aJlowed citizens to 
expect assistance from the federal government and gave labor the right to bargain 
with their employers, Although the New Deal adopted race-neutral policies, southern 
Democrats made sure that it did not disrupt white supremacy. Southern Democrats 
prohibited sharecroppers and domestics, the bulk of the black work force, from getting 
Social Security or a minimum wage, In order to pass New Deal legislation, northern 
Democrats allowed southern Democrats to govern themselves. Historians of the long 
civil rights movement center agency on external forces such as the Great Depression, 
the federal government, labor and the New Deaf During the Roaring 2Gs, when the 
economy was relatively beneficial for most middle-class Americans, most white skilled 
laborers and corporations, the federal government and the aforementioned groups were 
not concerned about racial equality. While the New Deal assisted African- Americans , 
it also widened racial inequality, which led to riots in the 60s. 7 
44 IbeMtnd'sEye 



David A. Canton 



Recent studies have begun to chronicle che civil rights sttuggle in the North, 
which existed simultaneously with the southern civil rights movement. By the 
mid-40s, the growing black population in northern cities began to protest black 
exclusion from beaches and amusement patks and from federally funded housing 
projects. Black voters provided black leadets political power that they transformed 
inro municipal and union jobs and grearer access to local and state resources. From 
1940 to the 1980s, in New York, Oakland and Philadelphia, black activists and 
their white liberal allies organized civil rights movements to protest poor hous- 
ing, schools and jobs for African-Americans. However, during the Black Power 
era, black civil rights activists castigated white liberals and organized to etadicate 
institutionalized racism." 

National media "discovered" the northern civil rights movement after the ghetto 
riots of the mid-1960s, The southern civil rights movement had used the media to show 
the world the atrocities, committed by white sheriffs, terrorist organizations such as the 
KuKlux Klan, landlords and governors in support of segregation and in defiance of federal 
law. When the media covered the social problems of the Norrh, however, they defined 
the new leaders as milirant black racists and disparaged the Black Power movement. 
This journalistic scapegoating of Black Power resonated in American popular culture 
and scholarship. However, a new wave of Black Power studies argues that Black Power 
had sourhern origins that included the tactic of self-defense. In fact, many of the Black 
Power figures were active in local struggles in the Notth that started during the 1950s. 
"The post-World War II urban studies combined with the northern civil righrs scholarship 
and new Black Power studies historicize the post- World War II structural causes of the 
60s tebellion and the northern black struggle for equality, As Martha Biondi suggests, 
"The 'struggle for Negro righrs' in postwar New York should be seen less as a precursor 
to the southern civil rights movement than as a backdrop to the Black Power era in the 
North." After World War II, black communities throughout the Norrh struggled for 
equality, but the origins of the northern civil rights struggle and the Black Power era in 
the North are in post-World War I America.' 

World War I had a major influence on African-Americans and was a major cause 
of the civil rights struggle in the North. Before World War I, 90 percent of the black 
population lived in the South. In most northern cities, the black community was not a 
threar to white political and economic power. As a result, race relations were relatively 
decent as long as African-Americans remained in rheir place. The onset of the Great War 
led to a precipitous decline in the number of European immigrants; the North had a 
labor shortage and employers were forced to tecruit black labor. The first great migra- 
tion from the rural South to the urban North began during the war. The "trend toward 
racism in the North was amply illustrated in the years immediately following the First 
World War." Northern cities were not prepared for the influx of African-Americans and 
instead of embracing these new American migrants, exhibited increasing segregation 
and white hostility. 10 

The Mind'! Eye 45 



David A. Canton 



World War I radically changed race relations in The North. After the war, black 
veterans "returned to die nation fighting" for civil rights and some black veterans refused 
to obey Jim Crow laws, triggering race riots in southern cities. In 1915> D. W, Griffith's 
film The Birth of a Nation, though praised for its cinematic sophistication, provided a 
racist interpretation of Reconstruction. Woodrow Wilson, a classmate of Griffiths at 
Johns Hopkins University, held a special viewing of the film in the newly segregated 
White House. African-Americans around the nation protested the film, and on April 19, 
1915, William Monroe Trotter, editor of the Boston Guardian, a black newspaper, led 
"the first Negro march . . . of more than a thousand people through the streets of Boston 
and to the State House" to protest the film, but only the most 'objectionable scenes" 
were censored. The summer of 1919 became known as the Red Summer because of the 
25 race riots that occurred across America. Poet Claude McKay wrote "If We Must Die," 
encouraging African- Americans to "face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the 
waif dying, but fighting back!" During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan reached its peak 
with five million members, and the KKK marched in northern cities and in Washington, 
D.C., in 1925* Segregation created a "ghetto economy" that produced a black business 
elite, and between 1915 and 1917> African -Americans owned businesses making an 
estimated 2.2 billion dollars. Nevertheless, while some black businessmen benefited 
from segregation, rhe color line made life difficult for all African -Americans. 1 ' 

According to August Meier, the Term "New Negro," made famous by philosopher 
Alain Locke in 1925, may have first been used in an 1895 editorial in the Cleveland 
Gazette, a black newspaper. The edirorial stated that "a class of colored people, the New 
Negro," had emerged and they had 'education, refinement and money." The "New Negro" 
included educated African-American doctors, dentists, teachers, artists, businessmen and 
lawyers. As Locke described their politics, the New Negroes did not reject Booker X 
Washington's accommodation and economic self-help but refused to tolerate segregation 
and second-class citizenship. He notes that the New Negro was "radical on race matters 
... a social protestant rather than a genuine radical." Some New Negroes, particularly 
West Indian born, such as journalists Hubert Harrison and Cytill Briggs, embraced socialism 
and criticized black leaders who desired racial equality only in a capitalist state. However, in 1920, 
demanding full citizenship in a racist society was a radical concept.'^ 

By the late 1920s, sociologist Monroe Work stated that there were 80,000 black 
professionals in the United States. During the 20s, New Negroes protested against 
racism and segregation and New Negro attorneys were in the forefront of this move- 
ment. Trained at prestigious whiTe law schools, they opened their own firms to protect 
African^ American civil rights, improve the status of black lawyers and assist NAACP 
lawyers. In her path-breaking essay "Black f awyers and theTwenticth-Century Struggle 
for Constitutional Change," Darlene Clark Hine laments, "Historians have neglected to 
analyze the roles played by the individual local Mack attorneys who labored behind the 
scenes." In Philadelphia, one of those neglected attorneys was Raymond Pace Alexander, 
a key figure in the struggle for civil rights in that city. 33 
46 The Mind'i Eye 



David A. Canton 



The leading roles played by a few African-American lawyers in dismantling seg- 
regation and obtaining civil rights are well known. Charles Hamilton Houston, head 
counsel for the NAACP Legal Committee; William Hastie, the first African-American 
federal appointed judge; and Thurgood Marshall, who would become the first Afri- 
can- American Supreme Court Justice, ach ieved legal victories of national significance. 
Alexander's civil rights struggle in Philadelphia complements the work accomplished by 
his nationally known colleagues and demonstrates the post- World War I origins of the 
civil rights struggle in the North. While Supreme Court rulings applied to the entire 
nation, Alexander's civil rights struggle in Philadelphia sought to improve black employ- 
ment, housing and educational opportunities fot African-Americans in Philadelphia. 
Alexanders civil rights struggle laid the foundation for chat city's civil rights and Black 
Powet movements.' 4 

Raymond Pace Alexander was born in Philadelphia's seventh ward, the black 
neighborhood that was made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois's 1899 classic sociological 
study The Philadelphia Negro. Alexander, the grandson of slaves, graduated from the 
University of Pennsylvania in 1917 and Harvard Law School in 1923. He had synthe- 
sized three major political ideologies in African-American history. He advocated Booker 
T. Washington's economic self-help, Du Bois's polirical agitation and Marcus Gatveys 
race pride. Like must black professionals, Alexander served predominanrly black clients. 
However, black doctors, teachets and dentists worked in an all-black environment, while 
Alexander wotked in an all-white judicial system. He had to convince both black and 
white Americans that he was a qualified attorney. Black newspapers highlighted his 
court victories in order to demonsttate his competence as well as his service to the race. 
Alexander fought to improve professional opportunities for black lawyers, who faced 
hostile white judges and juries and who enjoyed limited professional choices. Raymond 
Pace Alexander and other younger militant attorneys struggled to improve their status 
in Ametican law and in the black community. 

Prom 1920 to 1930, the number of black atrorneys in Philadelphia had increased 
from 13 to 30, though duting the same decade, the nunrber of black attorneys in New 
York had increased from 50 to 103- It was more difficult for black rhan for white law 
school graduates to gain entry to the Pennsylvania bar, because it tequired a photograph 
wirh each application. Accotding to Carter G. Woodson, in Cleveland, New York and 
Boston, black lawyers actively participated in the white local bat. In southern cities, 
such as Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmingron, Delaware, white artorneys prohibited 
black attorneys from joining the white bar association. In Philadelphia, black attorneys 
joined the bat, but beyond the courtroom, black and white attorneys in the city rarely 
socialized. This pattern pervaded public space in "the city of brotherly love." In 1950, 
Alexander wrote: 

Excepting only the restaurants in rhe John Wanamakcr store and the Broad 
Street Station, a Negro in 1923 could not be served in the restaurant or cafe 

The Mind's Eye 47 



David A. Canton 



of any firsr class hotels in Philadelphia., nor could he obtain food in any of 
the Central City restaurants. ... I know it will surprise you to know that 
was die rule even in such great restaurants as the Horn & Hardart chain, 
Lintons, Childs and the like, The only place he could obtain food in central 
Philadelphia was in. the Automats, which were color blind. . . . Restaurants 
away from rhe central section and those in the suburban area were even 
worse. Their merhod of refusal sometimes took the form of violence." 1 

Some white businesses posted signs saying "No Negroes allowed." The 1920s 
ate noted for the Harlem Renaissance, but this decade also witnessed the birth of the 
northern civil rights srtuggle. 

During the 1 920s, African -Americans in northern cities hi red black attorneys and 
used the courts to fight for civil rights. It took Alexander, the black community and 
white allies 40 years to eliminate de jure segregation in Philadelphia's schools, public 
parks, restaurants, hotels, theaters and beaches. Northern civil rights activists also sought 
to increase the number of black employees in municipal service, well before the federal 
government endorsed equal opportunity in employment. Northern advocates of civil 
rights pressed not only for equal access to public facilities, such as parks and pools, but 
also for equal distribution of public services such as relief. In this view, equal rights 
were inherent in American citizenship, Alexander's achievements in Philadelphia came 
not only in the courtroom but also through the voting booth and on the city council. 
The combination of voting with litigation and protest proved potent for black Phila- 
delphians. 

The northern civil rights struggle can be divided into three stages. The first phase 
began during the 1920s and ended by the mid 1930s. Civil rights leaders fought to 
force northern states to enforce their state Equal Rights laws. After the Compromise of 
1877, rhe Republican Parry abandoned African -Americans and focused on reuniting 
the nation. In 1883, the United States Supreme Court declared the 1875 Civil Rights 
Act unconstitutional In response, between 1885 and 1905, 18 northern states passed 
Equal Rights laws making segregation a crime; but these laws were not consistently 
enforced unless African -Americans protested. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania's 1877 Equal 
Rights Law provided Alexander with a basis for riling suits against discrimination. 
Alexander's civil rights cases, the boycotts and the black vote assisted the passing of the 
1935 Pennsylvania Equal Rights Law. According to Alexander, unlike rhe 1 887 law, this 
law had "some nasty sharp-edged teeth." 17 

The second phase of the northern civil rights struggle began during World War II 
and ended in I960. Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened a mass demon- 
stration on the Capitol protesting segregation in hiring at war plants, forcing President 
Franklin Delano Roosevelt to issue Executive Order #8802, which prohibited discrimina- 
tion in federal employment and by plants holding federal contracts and established the 
Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). During the 40s, a number of northern 
48 The Mind's Eye 



David A. Canton 



states passed their own FEPC laws. Since the 30s, African-Americans had organized 
"Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaigns using consumer boycotts to force white 
businesses to hire African-Americans. After the Great Depression, civil rights activists 
and black leaders viewed employment as a civil tight. 18 

The final phase of the northern civil rights struggle started in I960, the same 
year as the direct-action protests in the South. African-Americans in northern ciries 
remained in low-paying jobs, poor neighborhoods and inadequate schools. Taking a 
cue from the southern movement, nottbetn local leaders used demonstrations to protest 
these inequities, but they were unable to capture national attention. In August 1964, 
an African-American woman in North Philadelphia went into a white-owned store and 
gor into an argument with the proprietor. Tire owner called rhc police, who arrested 
the woman, but a tumor circulated that they had murdered her. During the next two 
nights, a riot starred and the mayor issued a curfew. The next week. The Philadelphia 
Inquirer reported that the riot was caused by "alleged police brutality and lack of jobs." 
The 1 964 Philadelphia race riot foreshadowed the unrest that soon engulfed many other 
cities. Most civil rights scholarsh ip views the Watts riot of 1 965 as the event that marked 
the beginnings of Black Power, when, in fact, it was ushered in by rhe Philadelphia race 
not of 1964." 

Alexander's ideological transformation is a major theme of his story. During the 
1920s and 1930s, he was a race radical, who used litigation and supported mass protests 
to obtain civil rights for African-Americans. Starting in the 20s, the NAACP launched 
a successful litigation campaign to desegregate graduate and professional schools in the 
South. Pullman Porters unionized and engaged in community-based political activ- 
ism to improve their wages and working conditions. Litigation was Alexander's main 
tactic. In Philadelphia, he used the courts and, unlike Walter White of the NAACP, 
embraced mass politics and allowed leftist organizations to participate in local move- 
ments. The NAACP s legal campaigns wete successful, but the Great Depression forced 
black leaders to consider using mass-based protest to demand change. Kenneth Mack 
argues that civil rights scholarship lias created a dichotomy between legalism and such 
protests. As a result, all black lawyers ate categorized as anti-mass-based protest and rhe 
claim that "lawyers deradicalize social movements" has proceeded wirh little sustained 
analysis of lawyers' everyday work. In fact, during the apogee of Alexander's radicalism, 
he was "sympathetic to the radical's arguments" and synthesized "legalism with mass 
politics." Consequently, Alexandet built coalitions in Philadelphia with the left and 
the black masses. However, after World War II and during the Cold Wat, he shifted to 
racial refotm and avoided working with the left. Alexander believed in racial uplift, but, 
unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not blame poor blacks for their condition. 
As Kevin Gaines notes, "Black lawyers were solidly in the more group-oriented uplift 
tradition of socially responsible education. 20 

Alexander did not always follow national black leaders. His political differences 
with them wete generational. When he returned to Philadelphia to practice law in 1923, 

The Mind's Eye 49 



David A. Canton 



he was critical of black leaders, such as John Asbury, who failed to demand more from 
the city's white political machine. Alexander tecalled that there wete rvvo generations of 
black attorneys. Lawyers such as Asbury belonged to the "oldet Negro Bar," those who 
passed the Pennsylvania Bar before 1 920. The 1 3 lawyers who, like himself, had passed 
the bar between 1 920 and 1 933, and "had been trained at the larger and more prom inent 
schools and universities of the North," belonged to the Philadelphia Bar Association. 
The New Negro generation of lawyers, who were aided by a larger black vote, demanded 
more political patronage tor themselves and the communiry. When the Student Nonvio- 
lent Coordinating Committee formed in I960, older black ministers did not agree with 
direcr-action ractics. Thurgood Marshall, who had wirnessed the devastating impact of 
southern race t iots, took a "negative view of King's rhetotic and mass ptotests ... and 
after the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, he "grew irritated at the front-page at- 
tention being showered on King." The black ministers' views of SNCC and Marshall's 
view of King were shaped by the experiences of their generation. As Alexander aged, he 
had similar sentiments about Black Power, and on numerous occasions he felt that he 
had never received the recognition rhat he deserved." Nevertheless, Alexanders New 
NegtD generation took full advantage of the new political and economic opporruniries 
for the black elite. In 1948, Harry S.Truman and the Democratic Party made a srrong 
commitment to civil rights. In 1947, Ttuman had appointed a 15-member commit- 
tee called the Committee on Civil Rights, and they published a document titled "To 
Secure These Rights." Truman appointed Alexander's wife, Sadie Tan ner Mossell, to the 
committee. When he appointed her, the Alexanders were Republicans, but after her 
appolnrmenr, both joined the Democratic Party, and Raymond Alexander immediately 
started campaigning for Truman. In 1948, a federal judgeship fell vacant. Alexander 
and William Hastie were the two front-runners, but Truman appointed Hastie, who 
was a lifelong Democrat. Alexander was nationally known in black America but locally 
respecred in white America. In Philadelphia, however, he was extremely influential 
and played a major part in the city's reform movement, a coalition of black and white 
middle-class liberals who challenged the city's governing Republican machine. 11 

The Cold War provided career opporrunities for black elites in the Foreign Service, 
Prior to the Cold War, the only position African-Americans obtained was in Haiti, The 
Cold War forced the United States to improve its image to the world on race relations. 
As a result, during the 1940s and 1950s, Alexander wrote numerous lettets to govern- 
ment officials trying to obtain work in the Foreign Service. In 1965, the U.S. State 
Department hired him as a Special Assistant, and he traveled to the Far East ro discuss 
race relations. Alexander criticized American racism; however, when Communist govern- 
ments discussed the subject, Alexander dismissed their statements as propaganda. His 
Far East speeches emphasized racial cooperation and not facial tension, rhe image that 
Asians had received in the media. Alexandet was rehired by rhe Srate Department in 
1 968 ro serve as an American Specialist to the Middle East. In lectures before Middle 
Fast audiences, he discussed the impact of the civil rights movement and the petil of 
50 The Mind's Eye 



DitvtdA. Canton 



institutionalized poverty and racism. Alexander's rwo stints with the Stare Department 
tracked the ideological shift that King made after 1965. 

Alexander provided the groundwork for the civil rights generation and next wave 
of black lawyers in Philadelphia. African-American activists of the 60s used the same 
tactics — boycotting, voting, picketing ot protesting — that were used throughout die 20th 
century. Historical understanding can bridge the ideological gap between generations. 
Alexander and the younger leaders desired the same goals— black equality— but they 
disagreed over tactics. Black equality connotes equal access to education, jobs and 
health care. Alexander sought to eliminate de jure segregation and have the state enforce 
equity. Boycotts used the power of the black dollar for African-Americans to get jobs 
in white-owned businesses. Many Black Power and civil rights activists of the 1960s 
no longer saw the world through Alexander's perspective. The young activists were not 
aware of the amount of segregation that had existed in Philadelphia during the 1920s 
nor of how much Alexander had done to expand oppottunities for black lawyers and 
the black community in the dry 

In ordet to comprehend Alexander's impact on the civil tights struggle in Phila- 
delphia, one must understand how the white communiry denied resources to the black 
community in Philadelphia. During the 1920s, the dry was extremely racist. Assaults 
by white citizens on black citizens were frequent occurrences, especially in public places 
of recreation. Black neighborhoods lacked public parks, decent schools and police 
protecrion. Alexander understood how the city government had systematically denied 
public resources to African-Americans, despire their being voters and taxpayers. Work- 
ing downtown and in City Hall, he learned how white power worked. From 1923 to 
1960, Alexandet fought to desegregate the city and to ensure that it provided its black 
residents with their fair share of resources. 

The origin of the urban crisis, the northern civil rights struggle and Black Power 
began during the 1920s. It took years of legal, political and mass-based activism to 
desegregate northern cities. Alexander's civil rights struggle reflected the political ideol- 
ogy of the day. During the 30s, he supported mass-based politics; after World War II 
and during the Cold War, he advocared litigation and voting. The civil rights struggle 
in Philadelphia consisted of civil rights cases, criminal cases, school and public-accom- 
modation desegregation, coalition building and electoral activism. Toward the end of 
Alexander's life, he became more critical of liberal whites and cognizant of the impact 
of black poverty. Like most African- Americans, the longer he lived the more he became 
aware of what novelist Ralph Ellison tefers to as "the changing same of racism." In 1 971 
Senior Judge Raymond Pace Alexander spoke at the NAACP's Testimonial Dinner. 
His speech mentioned how he had used a "nonviolent, yet vigorous action rather than 
explosive methods" to obtain civil rights. He believed that his "approach to these 
problems was right" and said he still had "faith in God and my country." Alexander 
promised his audience that he could answer all of their questions in a "full biography 
of my life," but he died before the biography was completed. 13 

The Mind's Eye ^ 



David A- Canton 



Notes 

1 UPT 50 A 74 Sadie Tanner Moncll Alexander Box 1, Folder 6, The Philadelphia Bulletin 24 Jan. 
1965 in the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Papers at the University of Pennsylvania Archives. 
I will refer ro the papers of Raymond Pace Alexander as RPA Box # and Folder #. 

1 W. E. B. Du Bois, "Close Ranks," Crisis (July 1918) in David Levering Lewis, W.F .8. Du 
Bais: A Reader (New York: Holr, 1 995) 697. 

s C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baron Rouge: Louisiana State 
UP, 1971); James W. Locwen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (New 
Yotk; New, 2005) 47; Rayford W. Logan, TJif Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford R. Hayes 
to Woodrow Wilson (New York: Da Capo, 1997) 217. 

' Roberta Senechal, The Sociogenesis of a Race Riot: Springfield, Illinois, in 1908 (Urbana: U of 
Illinois R 1990); Mark Bauerlein, Negrophobia: A Race Riot in Atlanta, 1906 (San Francisco: 
Encounter, 2001); Charles Flint Kellogg, NAACF: A History of the National Association for the 
Advancement ofColored People, vol. 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1 967) ;C. Vann Woodward, 
The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford UP, 1 955) 1 7. 

! Far a historiography on the civil rights movement, see Charles W. Eagles, "Toward New His- 
tories of the Civil Rights Era," The Journal of Southern History 66 (Nov. 2000): 815^18; Kevin 
Gaines, "Hie Historiography of the Srtuggle for Black Equality Since 1945" inJean-Christophe 
Agnew and Roy Rosenzweig, eds., A Companion to Post- 1 945 America (Maiden , MA: Blackwell, 
2002); Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black 
America's Struggle for Equality (New York: Knopf, 1976); David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: 
Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Mor- 
row, 1986); August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 
1942-1968 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1 975); William C. Berman, The Politics of Civil Rights in 
the Truman Administration (Columbus: Ohio Stare UP, 1970). 

"Claybornc Carson, In Struggle: SNCCand the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: 
Harvard UP, 1981); Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get Therewith You: The True Martin Luther 
Kingjr. (New York: Free, 2000): Willliam Henry Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, 
North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford UP, 1980); John Dittmer, 
Local People: Ihe Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1994); Charles 
M . Payne, I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom 
Struggle (Berkeley: U of California P, 1 995); Stephen G. N. Tuck, Beyond Atlanta: The Struggle 
for Racial Eauality in Georgia, 1940-1980 (Athens: U of Georgia P, 2001); Adam Fairclough, 
Race & Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 (Athens: U of Gcotgia R 
1 995); Batbata Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vi- 
sion (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003); Mary L. Dudziak, ColdWar Civil Rights: Race 
and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000); Aldon D. Morris, 
The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizingfor Change (New York: 
Free, 1984); Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, eds., Groundwork: Local Black Freedom 
Movements in America (New York: New York U, 2005) . 

Harvard Sirkoff", A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue (New 
York; Oxford UP, 1 978); Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, "The Long Civil Rights Movement and the 
Political Uses of the Past," The Journal of American History*)! (Mar. 2005): 1235; Nikhil Pal 
Singh, Black Is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (Cambridge, MA: 



52 The Mind's Eye 



David A. Canton 



Harvard UK 2004); Ira Kaanclson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of 
Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Norton, 2005). 

' Jeanne Theaharis and Komozi Woodard, Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the 
South, 1940-1980 (New York: Macmillan, 2003); Arnold R. Hirsch, "Massive Resistance in the 
Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1 966," The Journal of American History 82 (Sept. 
1995); 522-50; Victoria W. Wolcott, "Recreation and Race in the Postwar City: Buffalo's 1956 
Crystal Beach Riot," The journal of American History 93 (June 2006) : 63-90; Thomas J. Sugme, 
"Affirmative Acrion from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Racial 
Eqtraliryin the Urban North, 1945-1969," The journal of American History 91 (June 2004): 
145-73); Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York 
City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the 
Struggle for Postwar Oakland X Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003); Matthew J. Countryman, Up 
South: Civil Rights and Black Power m Philadelphia (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2006). 

' Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (Chapel 
Hill: U of North Carolina R 1 999); Yohuru Williams, Black Politics/White Pouter: Civil Rights, 
Black Power and Black Panthers in New Haven (New York: Brandywlne, 2000); Jeffrey O. G. 
Ogbar, Black Power: Radical Polities and African American Identity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
UP, 2004); Peniel E. Joseph, ed., The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black 
Power Era (New York; Roudedge, 2006); Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting Til the Midnight Hour A Nar- 
rative History of Black Power in America (New York: Holt, 2006); Biondi, Stand and Fight, 2. 

11 Woodward, Strange Career, 1 14. 

"Mark R. Schneider, We Return Fighting: /he Civil Rights Movement in the Jazz Age (Boston: 
Northeastern UP, 2002); Kevin Boyic, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in 
the Jazz Age (New York: Holt, 2004); Robert H. Brisbane, Vie Black Vanguard: Origins of the 
Negro Social Revolution, 1900-1 960 (Valley Forge, PA: Judson, 1970) 42; William M. Tutde, 
Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1 91 9 (New York: Atheneum, 1970); Robert V. Haynes, 
A Night of Violence: TbeHouston Riot of 1 9 17 {"Alton Rouge: Louisiana State UP 1976); Kenneth 
T.Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City. 1915-IV30 (New York: Oxford UP, 1967); Robert 
E. Weems, Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century 
(New York: New York UP, 1998) 10. 

" August Meier, Negro Thought in America, IS80-I9I5: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. 
Washington (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1963; 258; Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (New 
York: Atheneum, 1992) 1 1; Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean 
Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America (New York: Verso, 1999). 

i3 Monroe Work. "The Negro in Business and the Professions," Annals of the American Academy 
of Political and Social Science 80 (Nov. 1928): 140; J. Clay Smith, Emancipation: The Mak- 
ing of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1993); Darlene Clark 
Hine, "Black Lawyers and the Twentieth-Century Sttuggle for Constitutional Change" in John 
Hope Franklin and Genna Rae McNeil, eds., African Americans and the Living Constitution 
(Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1995) 34. 

'"Genna Rae McNeil, Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights 
(Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1983); Gilbert Ware. William Hastie: Grace Under Pressure 
(New York: Oxford UP, 1984); Juan Williams, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary 
(New York: Times, 1998). 



The Minds Eye 55 



David A. Canton 



15 Fitzhugh Lee Styles, Negroes and the Law in the Race's Battle for Liberty, Equality and Justice 
Under the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Christopher, 1937); Walter J. Leonard, 
Black Lawyer: Training and Results, Ihen and Now (Boston: Senna, 1977); Geraldine R. Segal, 
Blacks in the Law: Philadelphia and the Nation (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1983); J. 
Clay Smith, Jr., ed. Rebels in Law: Voices in History of Black Women Lawyers (Ann Arbor: U of 
Michigan P, 1998). 

'"Charles Ashley Hardy, "Race and Opportunity: Black Philadelphia During the Era of the Great 
Migration, 1916-1930," diss. Philadelphia: Temple U, 1989, 283-84; Carter G. Woodson, 
The Negro Professional Man and the Community (New York: Negro UP, 1969) 199; RPA, "The 
Struggle Against Racism in Philadelphia from 1923-1948" 2, RPA Box 97, Folder 19. 

"The 18 states were Illinois (1885), Connecticut (1884), Iowa (1884), New Jersey (1884), 
Ohio ( 1 884), Colorado ( 1 885), Indiana (1885), Massachusetts (1885), Michigan ( 1 885), Min- 
nesota (1885), Nebraska (1885), Rhode Island (1885), Pennsylvania (1887), New York (1893), 
Washington (1890), Wisconsin (1895), California (1897), Kansas, (1905). Gilbert Thomas 
Stephenson, Race Distinctions in American Law (New York: Appleton, 1910); Alexander quote 
in the Philadelphia Tribune 11 Apr. 1935. 

la Paula F. PfefFer, A. Philip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: 
Louisiana State UP, 1990); Robert Rodgers Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers 
and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South (Chapel Hill: U of North 
Carolina P, 2003). 

" ' 7he Philadelphia Inquirer 24 Aug. 1964. 

1X1 Beth Tompkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 
1925-1945 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2001); Mark V. Tushnet, The NAACP's 
Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950 (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina E 
1987); Kenneth W. Mack, "Law and Mass Politics in the Making of the Civil Rights Lawyer, 
1931-1941," The Journal of American History 93.1 (June 2006): 38-39; Kevin K. Gaines, Up- 
lifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: U 
of North Carolina P, 1996) 238. 

" Williams, Thurgood Marshall 147-48; RPA, "John M. Langston Law Club," The Shingle (Dec. 
1951): 233-34 in RPA Box 97, Folder 23; The Philadelphia Tribune? May 1925; Pittsburgh 
Courier 23 May 1925. 

"Michael L. Krenn, Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969 
(Armonk, NY: Sharpe, 1999); Countryman, Up South 1. 

:i RPA, Box 99, Folder 44; Ralph Ellison, quoted in Singh. Black Is a Country 55. 



54 The Mind's Eye 



Searching for Ambrose: 
Genealogy, Biography 
and African- American 
Place in the Historical 
Narrative 

BY DINA MAYO-BOBEE 

In July 2006, two days before the end of the summer semester, 1 addressed the topic 
of Reconstruction with a group of undergraduates more interested in counting down 
the final minutes of the day than in listening to another lecture. After all, this was 
just a Gen. Ed. survey course looking at American civilization to 1877, and each of the 
studenrs, mostly seniors, was admittedly taking the class only for the tequired "history 
credits." Hoping to finally spark an interesting class discussion, I scheduled an airing 
of the PBS documentary Reconstruction: The Second Civil War. 1 Unfortunately, as in the 
textbook I had assigned, the documentary highlighted the discrimination and violence 
black people experienced during Reconstruction, and little more. It rushed the viewet 
from the failure of Reconstruction to the civil rights movement of the 1 960s, with very 
little commentary on African-American life in berween. 

Compensating for the lack of information perraining to African-American cultute 
aftet emancipation, [ decided to mention some of the findi ngs from my latest genealogical 
research. To show that African-Americans were able to live meaningful and productive 
lives in spite of white racism and Jim Crow segregation, 1 felated whar I had recently 
learned about a farmer named Ambrose McCaskill who was born in antebellum South 
Carolina. Ambrose owned land, raised children and grandchildren and helped create 
a close-knit community on property still possessed by the family. To my surprise and 

Tht Mind's Eye ^ 



Dina Mayo-Bobee 

delight, students were intrigued by this brief account, and one young man even uttered 
an audible "Wow" when I pointed out that Ambrose and his wife had managed to live 
full lives through the Civil War, Reconstruction and World War I in rural, segregated 
South Carolina, the birthplace of secession. Even if it was dismissed by some of the 
students, this aspect of African-American history was certainly new to them all. 

The need for improvisation underscores a problem that faces instructors who must 
challenge unbalanced depictions of African-Americans inside and outside the classroom. 
In this article, in addition to examining deficiencies in mainstream coverage or black 
culture, 1 will look at Ambrose and his family across four generations, and explore 
the value of reconstructing personal histories, Last, 1 will examine bow historians are 
recovering neglected elements of African-American culture and the ways that genealo- 
gists have contributed to our ever-increasing knowledge of cultural development in the 
United States. 

The dearth of information in textbooks, as it pertains to the lives of African- 
Americans after Reconstruction, was examined by Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Robert 
Weems in 1994, Based on an analysis of 14 popular U-S. history survey textbooks, 
they concluded that the "texts often depict African -Americans as victims, rather than 
as historical actors" because textbook writers rely on "the race relations paradigm, which 
examines the lives, history, and experiences of people of African descent by focusing on 
their relationship to people of European descent," 7 On average, they found that these 
textbooks devoted only 1 5 percent of their pages to content regarding African-Americans, 
only 1 1 percent of their illustrations featured African -Americans, and only 6 percent of 
the suggested readings listed works about African- Americans. 

Among the textbooks surveyed was the text I had assigned to my class, Nation 
of Nations by James W Davidson et al. In 1994, the book had a higher than average 
number of pages featuring discussions about African-Americans at 20 percent, but a 
lower than average percentile of its illustrations and subheadings; and only 8 percent 
of Its suggested readings dealt with Africa n- Americans.- 1 Whi^e the book seems to have 
made improvements in its coverage of black culture, insufficiencies still exist. 4 As the 
study goes on to explain, since textbooks overwhelmingly emphasize interracial con- 
tention in their already limited coverage of African-Americans, discourse regarding 
the building of black communiries, domestic life* economics, education and cultural 
achievement is omitted. 5 

Not only are representations of African- Americans "warped" in college textbooks, 
as the aforementioned report indicates, but the same inadequacies exist at other levels of 
education/ 1 For example, a 1998 evaluation of 44 high school students was conducted to 
gauge their perceptions of historical actors, the significance of historical events and the 
reliability of secondary sources. The results revealed that the students, white and black, 
developed viewpoints and judged textbook histories based on what they had learned 
from family and personal experience. White students' perceptions were commensurate 
with textbook material, since the books confirmed what they learned at home, but the 
56 Ike Mind's Eye 



Difia Mayo-Bubee 

African-American students rejected "school-based historical accounts as 'white people's 
history,"' because the information was inconsistent with what they had been taught by- 
parents and grandparents. Terrie Epstein, who conducted the 1998 study, suggested that 
U.S. history could be taught "as a narrative in which racial and/or [different] ethnic 
groups' experiences simultaneously were inextricably entwined and decisively differ- 
ent." Regrettably, however, though accurately concluding that students' perceptions 
and "partial views" should be challenged by "the consideration and integration of the 
other's" sodocultural experiences, Epstein fails ro venture beyond economic, political 
and social discrimination as the sine qua non fot African-American inclusion in the 
high school curriculum. 7 

Nor is rhe problem exclusive to textbook histories. Unlike Epstein, fot whom the in- 
clusion of African-American culture is contingent on interracial relations, Mae Henderson 
admits rhar a new approach to black cultural studies is needed in academia to counteract 
the "particularizing and homogenizing" assumptions that result from what some academics 
refer to pejoratively as "'victim' or 'oppression' studies." Henderson argues that we should 
uncovet the "vernacular traditions [and] indigenous principles . . . that reflect the geographi- 
cal and historical specificities of blacks in the United States," but utges us to show caution 
that we do not scorn or marginalize the scholarship that established black studies in the 
academy to begin with," 

Yet, 12 years after Cha-jua and Weems exposed the scarcity of African-American 
agency and imagery in textbooks, the problem has not been solved. To complicate mat- 
ters, some academics turn the argument around and use the focus on intetracial relations 
and tension to berate ethnic or minoriry studies. In his investigation of the campaign 
against cultural pluralism in historiography and academia, Herbert Shapiro censures the 
jeremiads of historians Eugene Genovcse, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Arthur Schlesinger, 
Jr., and C. Van n Woodward, According to Shapiro, longing for the top-down, Eurocentric 
intetpretations of the past, these historians disparage ethnic studies for introducing a 
"cult of victimization, inflammable sensitivity, alibi-seeking and self-pity" and call for 
scholars to return to a historical orthodoxy that purges historical interpretation and the 
academy of the ethnocentricity displayed by people of color. 3 

' With this in mind, it is important that we strive to enhance current interpretations 
of African-American culture, while avoiding an uncritical appropriation of the rhetoric 
employed by those whose goal is to control the scholarly discourse pertaining to black 
culture and censor academic freedom in the process. Slavery, colonization, segregation, 
lynching and disenfranchisement are all parr of the African-American experience in the 
United States, but it is equally important that we become acquainted with the social 
values and priorities that emerged independent of or in spite of the disruptive effects of 
interracial turmoil. In order to disseminate a comprehensive and informative rendition 
of African-American place in U.S. hisrory, we must be able to position black men and 
women within the diverse contexts and autonomous institutions that were essential to 
their historical development. 

The Mint, Eye W 



Dirm Mayo-Bobee 

"This was my reason for introducing Ambrose to my students — they were hearing 
only one side of the story. My genealogical research transcended its esoteric significance 
when I used it to conflate a history of black autonomy and agency with the prevailing 
narrative. What students were told about Ambrose contrasted starkly with the story 
of Benjamin Montgomery, which began the textbook's chapter on Reconstruction. 
Montgomery, who in 1867 received lands from Joseph Davis, brother of Confederate 
president Jefferson Davis, used his managerial skills to build a thriving African-American 
community, only to see it destroyed when rhe land was recovered by Jefferson Davis 
when Reconstruction failed. ]a So, what was so fascinating about Ambrose that he found 
his way into the lexicon of persons outside my family? 

To answer this, it is necessary to discuss something of Ambrose's life. My patri- 
lineal ancestry became the concentration of my genealogical research because of the 
family's geographic location and the availability of oral histories. This side of my family 
is firmly rooted in Kershaw County, South Carolina, where my parents currently live, 
and where 1 attended high school and lived for three years. Kershaw County is known 
to Revolutionary War historians as the location of the Battle of Camden in 1780, which 
sealed British control of the South and led to the 1781 capture and imprisonment, in 
Camden, of future president Andrew Jackson. After Abraham Lincoln's election in 1 860, 
the counry raised paramilitary troops to support secession and suppress Unionist dis- 
sent. L 1 After the Civil War, radical Republicans controlled the South Carolina legislature 
for close to a decade, during which time ex-slaves such as William and Frank Adamson 
represented Kershaw County, and some of the county's black politicians lost their lives 
at the hands of white redeemers. 1 ' No doubt, Ambrose witnessed or was privy to many 
of these events, because he lived all of his life just 20 miles norrheast of Camden, in the 
town of Beth tine, which was called Lynchwood until 1900. 

Before I had ever heard of Ambrose, 1 was fortunate enough to learn that the name 
of my grear- grand mother was Martha. I had regrettably never heard anything about 
Martha, nor had I ever met her oldest son, James, who was my grandfather. But with 
the help of census records, I was able to construct biographical sketches of their lives 
from 1900 through 1930. 13 While I have not yet been able to capture the previous ten 
years of her life, because of a fire and erroneous disposal of most of the 1890 census 
records, it became apparenr that in 1900, sometime after her marriage and the birth 
of an unnamed baby girl, who possibly died in childhood, Martha had returned to her 
parents' home. For the remainder of her life, she lived in close proximity to her parents, 
and it is here that I first encountered her father, Ambrose. 

The name of Ambrose's wife, Marthas mother, was never spelled the same way 
twice by census takers and could have been Myra, Mariah or Miriam. Nevertheless, she 
is listed, along with Ambrose, in every census record from 1 870 to 1 920. In 1870, she 
and Ambrose were in their early 20s and had three sons. According to census records, by 
1 880 the couple had more children, including Martha, who was born around 1 873. M 
Based on the census, Martha was a 27-year-old widow in 1900. 
58 TheMtndsEye 



Dim Mayo-bobee 

Ambrose was bom in 1844 and died in April of 1920, which accounts for his 
appearance on the 1920 census, which was taken on January 21. Martha died in 1922, 
bur at the time of het death, the coroners and/or doctors who filled out death certificates 
were much more meticulous about recording information pertaining to men than to 
women. Neither the names of Martha's parents, their occupation and dates of birth, 
nor a signature from a close relative ate present on her certificate. On the other hand, 
Ambroses death certificate yielded exciting information that added another dimension 
to my research. 1 discovered chat his mother's name was "Nancy Williams," which was 
the first time 1 encountered information reaching that far back in my ancestry. ,s 

Upon reexamining rhe census, I located Nancys name twice — once in 1 870, when 
she was in her 50s, and again in 1900, when she was about 78 yeats old. Nancy, who 
was born about 1 822, lived next door to Ambrose and his young family in 1 870. Col- 
lectively the census records revealed that over time, as the family expanded, it formed a 
concentric unit around its patriarchs and matriarchs, so that by 1 900, after rhe family 
had grown and built new homes, the elderly Nancy was living only a few doors away 
from Ambrose and his wife. 

Since the family maintained such dose ties and proximiry ro one another, I was 
curious about the land they inhabited, and soon discovered one ofNancys key contribu- 
tions to the family's welfare and stability. County records show rhat in 1 897, Nancy leased 
her son 500 acres of land for seven years. According ro the lease, Ambrose promised to 
"furnish the said Nancy Williams with all rhe necessaries of life (she being his morher) 
such as food and raiment . . . and also agrees that he will keep the fences theteon in 
good repair, look after her cattle, hogs, sheep, &c c." and return the land on rhe first day 
of January 1904. 16 Nancy, therefore, had ownership and was in conrrol of a great deal 
of land and livestock in post-Reconstruction South Carolina. 

Nancy's reasons for relinquishing control, even tempotatily, to her son are not 
srared, but part of her rationale was no doubt his business acumen and her faith in his 
abilities to provide and care for her. Ambrose's capaciry to manage property and his 
family's needs became evident in several transactions that took place in the late 1 9th and 
early 20th centuries. In 1899, for instance, Ambrose sold 120 actes of land for $151 
and purchased another 61 acres for $122 in 1901. In 1908, he acquired another 121 acres 
for $122 and in 191 1 recovered the 121 acres rhat he had sold in 1899, fot $151 , the 
amount he had feceived for it I 2 years earlier. 17 

Ambrose could not wrire his name, so he left no letters or diaries explaining the 
reasons for his land acquisitions, but the putpose fot purchasing the property soon became 
clear. In 1 9 1 1 , he sold his daughrer Martha 5 5 acres of land for five dollars, stipulating 
that the property should pass to het heirs when she died. He willed his other children 
land as well, retaining conrrol over their inheritance during his lifetime. 18 Ambrose was 
a farmer who appears ro have had the talent and resourcefulness to exchange sutphis 
crops or animals for cash and use the funds to purchase land to pass along ro his children, 
lllitetacy was not a barrier to whar appears to have been a successful and stable family 



Difia Mayo-Bnbte 

life, Ambrose was married ro rile same woman for more than 50 years, cared for his 
mother, provided for his children and left an inheritance for his descendants. Apparently, 
h is strong sense of family passed on to his children, who held on to their property while 
rhey apportioned land to other family members with the same generosity. 1 ' 

Martha lived only two years after her father's death, but she and her parents sur- 
vived long enough to see her sons, James, Lonnie and Arthur, become young adults. In 
April 1917, six months after the U.S. declared war on Germany, the government passed 
the Selective Service Act requiri ng every male living in the U.S. between the ages of 1 8 
and 45 ro register for the draft. Martha's sons took part in die first registration on June 
5, 1917, reserved for men born between 1886 and 1896. The registtation cards reveal 
much about the course of the young men's lives. When signing the cards, James and 
Lonnie signed their names; and, in fact, James's signarure appears on Ambrose's death 
cerrificate. However, Martha's youngest son, Arthur, had ro leave his mark, indicaring 
that James and Lonnie received some form of cducarion that Arthur did not. Other 
changes included rhe facr that James was still single and caring for his mothet, while 
Lonnie and Arthur were now married men. Both James and Arrhur continued to farm 
the land, but their brothet, Lonnie, had become a blacksmith. 

James cared for Marrha until her death in 1922, just as Ambrose had looked after 
Nancy. Sometime before his morher's death, James did marry, and by 1930, he and his 
wife had seven children, and his brother Arthur and his wife had six. 20 Although Lon- 
nie was still a resident of Kershaw County in ] 920, he no longer lived near the family 
homestead and, according to family members and the census, left South Catolina before 
the 1 930s. Until his death in 1 948, James continued to inhabit and farm the land that 
Ambrose had left his mother, He and his wife eventually raised ren children and lived 
long enough to see their oldest daughter get married and move to Lancaster, South 
Carolina, and their eldesr sons fight in World War II. One received several awards for 
his service in the Pacific and Middle Eastern theatets of the war, and rheir youngest son, 
only 17 when his father died, went on to serve in the Korean War as a medic with the 
Pi rst Forward Observance Battalion, which advanced beyond the 38rh Parallel into North 
Korea. All of James's children received educations and, except for his oldesr daughter, 
left South Carolina in the 1940s and '50s. 

Ambrose's legacy traveled to New England when, in the late 1 940s, James's oldest 
son bought a home in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he and his wife raised rhree sons 
and lived until his death in 1997. Anothet son purchased and operated a bed-and- 
breakfasr in Coos County, New Hampshire, which served as a family retreat and inn, 
until his widow soid the property shortly before her death in the late 1990s. Today, 
only rwo of James's children survive: a daughter, who lives in Florida and maintains 
close family ries in retirement, and his youngest son, who raised seven children, joined 
the March on Washington in 1963 and in 1972 returned to Kershaw County, whete 
he and his wife currently reside. Through the years, he has also kept in the family the 
55 acres that Ambrose left to Martha. Notably, for at least four generations, rhe family 
fiO 1h, Mind's Eyt 



Dins Maya-Bobee 

belonged to the Bethel Baptist Church, where Ambrose, Martha, James and other fam- 
ily members are buried. In feet, some of Ambroses descendants are active members of 
the church, including James's surviving daughter, who parricipates in church activities 
when visiting the area. 

Like millions of African-American families, Ambrose and his descendants adhered 
to a work erhic that enabled them to accomplish their goals, and their lives are indica- 
tive of the fact that African-American culture was shaped by individuals with unique 
personalities and distinct goals. Black people in the rural South built homes, established 
strong familial bonds and created neighborhoods and kinship communities in which 
they could raise and nourish their children while establishing traditions independent of 
the dominant culture and its prejudices. Ambrose typifies the spirit and determinarion 
of untold numbers of black men who provided for their families in ways that exceeded 
their prospects. Nancy and Martha confirm the important tole black women played in 
maintaining their families, exerring control over property and actively participating in 
the institutions that governed rheit lives. 

Scholars have begun ro focus more and more on African-American cultural au- 
tonomy in the post- Reconstruction South. Wilbert L. Jenkins looks at diversity among 
working-class freedmen in urban South Carolina and analyzes their patterns of life after 
slavery, while Tera W. Hunter examines black women's influence as wage earners and 
political activists. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore also discusses black women and the crucial 
part they played in building voluntary networks, political organizations and civil rights 
institutions after emancipation: and Thomas Holt's study nf black political leadetship 
in South Carolina explores the ttausference of authority from slavery to freedom. 31 

These are but a few of the studies that contribute to a more balanced portrayal of 
black culrure, and they establish a histotiographical founr from which textbook authors 
and documentarists can draw to give African-American society and traditions attention 
equal to that already devoted to Native and European American cultures. 22 The afore- 
menrioned works also rely on biographical information, which establishes agency and 
multiplicity. To consttuct the biographical profiles that add such texture and depth to 
our understanding of cultural development after emancipation, historians utilize census 
data, oral histoties and public records. 25 Genealogists play an important role in making 
these valuable resources available. According to bibliographer Sheila O'Hare, "acceptance 
and collaboration" among genealogists and historians has resulted in a proliferarion of 
the primary sources used by researchers. The Library of Congress Web sire, American 
Memory, which contains at least 100 databases, tesulted from the collaborative efforts 
of professional historians and local history organizations. Another indication of how 
the fields overlap is the growing number of academic Web sites that now provide links 
to genealogical database sites such as ancestry.com and faniilysearch.org, even though, 
as O'Hare notes, there is little discussion regatding the benefits of collaboration. " 

Yet, regardless of how tenuous or lukewarm the relationship between genealogists 
and historians may be, their work gives us a glimpse into the cultures and lifestyles that 

The Mind's Eye b\ 



Dina Mayo-Bobee 

rose from the ashes of Reconstruction. African-Americans have been telling their stories 
since before the founding of this nation, and beginning with the publication of the first 
slave narratives, biographical and autobiographical works have been the most cherished 
contributions to the African-American liteiary tradition. 25 Conversely, mainstream 
histories have been slow or reluctant to write African-Americans into the larger narra- 
tive of U.S. hisrory; and while some progress has been made, vigilance in addressing 
the inadequacies rhat still exist is needed. 

Until a comprehensive interpretation of African -American history is reflected in 
primary, secondary and college curricula, we must continue to challenge the monolithic 
depictions that remain ubiquitous in American society. This does not suggest that we 
reject conventional interpretations that focus on the struggle for racial and social equal- 
ity that ire stamped indelibly on the African-American past. Even rhen, however, this 
represenrs only a part of the story. We begin the process of enhancing and degencral- 
izing, and not romanticizing, black history when we propose rhat Ambrose McCaskill 
and Benjamin Montgomery be juxtaposed as different sides of the same story. 26 It is 
therefore incumbent upon us to broaden the focus of U.S. history to include the diver- 
sity of experience, lifestyles and perspectives that were essential to the development of 
African-American culture. 



62 The Mind's Eyt 



Dina Mayo-Bobec 

Notes 

1 Reconstruction: The Second Civil War, prod. Elizabeth Deane, WGBH Educational Foundation, 
2004, digital videodisc 

? Sundiara Keira Cha-Jua and Robert E, Weems, Jr., "Coming into Focus; the Treatment of 
African Americans in Post-Civil War United States History Survey Texrs," The Journal of American 
History 80.4 (Mar. 1994): 1408 (italics theirs). 

■'Cha-Jua and Weems 1410. 

I To examine the content and the textbooks current treatment of African-Americans, see James 
W. Davidson, Nation of Nations, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw, 2005) 206, 207, 224-27, 
411-17, 497, 543-57. 

' Cha-Jua and Weems 1408. 

6 Cha-Jua and Weems 1411. 

7 Terrie Epstein, "Deconstructing Difference in Africn Americans and European- American 
Adolescents' Perspectives on U.S. History," Curriculum Inquiry 28 (Winter 1998): 400, 418, 
419, 420. 

* Mae G. Hendetson, "'Where, by the Way, Is This Train Going?': A Case for Black (Cultural) 
Srudies," Callako 19 (Winter 1996): 63, 64, 66. 

'Herbert Shapiro, '"Political Cotrecrncss' and the U.S. Historical Profession" in Herbert 
Shapiro, ed., African American History and Radical Historiography: Essays in Honor of Herbert 
Aptheker (Minneapolis, MN: MEP, 1 998) 324. Compare with C. Vann Woodward, 'The Burden 
of Southern History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1993) 184. 

'"Davidson 530, 557. 

I I Bernard Railyn et al., The Great Republic: A History of the American People (Boston: Little, 1977) 
286-87; Manisha Sinha, The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum 
South Carolina (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2000) 235. 

l; C Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 
1 971 ); Thomas C. Holt, Black Over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During 
Reconstruction (Utbana: U of Illinois P, 1977) 90 n 72, 141. 

"1900 U.S. Census, Buffalo Township, Kershaw County, South Carolina. 

"1870 U.S. Census, Buffalo Township, Kershaw County, South Carolina. 

15 South Carolina DHEC Viral Records, Certificate of Death, 1920, 23:7911. 

" Kershaw County Register of Deeds, Book UU, Page 687, February 3, 1 897. 

"'Kershaw County Registet of Deeds, Book 7X, Page 426. March 1 1 , 1899; Book DDD, Page 
68, March 8, 1901; Book SSS, Page 412, January 17, 1908; Book AC, Page 367, February 
9, 1911. 

" Kershaw County Register of Deeds, Book AC, Page 632, January 28, 1 9 1 1 , 
" See Kershaw County Registet of Deeds, Book AK, Page 632, Match 7,1917. 
20 1930 U.S. Census, Buffalo Township, Kershaw County, South Carolina. 

The Mind's Eye 63 



Dnm Mayo-Bobee 



'-' Wilben L Jenkins, Seizing the New Day: African-Americans in Post-Civil War Charleston 
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998);TeraW. Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's 
Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge, MA: Howard UP, 1997); Glenda Elizabeth 
Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 
1 896-1920 (Chapel Hi II: U of North Carolina P, 1996); Holt. Compare these works with Her- 
bert Shapiro's White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery (Amherst: U 
of Massachusetts P, 1 988); Frank McGlynn and Seymar Drescher, eds. , The Meaning of Freedom: 
Economics. Politics, and Culture After Slavery (Pittsburgh: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992); and C. 
Vann Woodward's influential Ihe Strange Career of /im Crow (New York: Oxford UP 1996). 

" Vcit comparisons, see Davidson 2-24, 52-80, 89-97, 230, 41 1-12, 545^7. 

2 ' For example, see Hunter VIII and Holt 90 n 72, 

"Sheila O'Hare, "Genealogy and Hisrory," Common-Place 2 (Apr. 2002): III, IV. 

JV Ihe canon of African-American biography is extensive. Some of the most familiar include 
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Qlaudah Equiano, or, Gustavus Vassa, 
the African I Written by Himself, 1794, Shelley Eversley, ed (New York: Modern, 2004); Harriet 
A, Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Boston, 186 1 ) ; Frederick Douglass, Life and Times 
of Frederick Douglass. Written by Himself. His Early Life as a Slave. His Escape from Bondage, and 
His Complete History to the Present Time, Including His Connection with the Anti-Slave Movement 
(Hartford, CT: Park, 1881); Booker T. Washingron, Upfront Slavery (New York: Burt, 1901); 
and William J. Brown, The Lift of William j. Brown, of Providence, R.I: With Personal Recollec- 
tions of Incidents in Rhode Island 1883 (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries P, 1971). 

-" For a somewhat confl icting analysis, see Clarence E. Walker's Deromanticizing Black History: 
Critical Essays and Reappraisals (Knosville: U of Tennessee P, 1991). 



64 The Minds Eye 



The Life and Death of 
William Meadows: 
Local Government 
Documents as Sources for 
Biography 

BY JAN VOOGD 



The role of place in shaping Africa n-American biography can be a direct one. 
If, in a particular location, there is the sentiment, or the conscientiousness, to 
record information on people and events, stones will have the opportunity 
to survive. Local social conditions and politics can affect, adversely or positively, the 
recording of information and events. While oral history, newspaper accounts, letters 
and diaries are well-known resources for recovering history, there are others less well 
known, such as publications of local governments, that can offer much more verdant 
depths than might be expected. 

William Meadows, a former slave, was one of the black representatives to Louisiana's 
Constitutional Convention in 1868. The year after rhe convention, he was shot and 
killed at his home in Claiborne Parish, in front of his family. The details of this criminal 
tragedy, including the eyewitness testimony of his wife, were captured in a contemporary 
state government publication, a reporr published by the Geneta] Assembly of Louisiana. 
A committee investigating the conduct of the elections tecorded information about 
Meadows' murder, thereby ensuring that the details became part of the public record. 
This effort at the local level to record and preserve the information affords the truth the 
possibility of being discovered (LA General Assembly). 

Ibe Mind's Eye 65 



Jan Voogd 

The story of William Meadows and the attention the Louisiana General Assembly 
devoted to it demonstrates the powerful role a particular place can have in the shaping 
of African -American biography. While certainly fascinating topics in and of themselves, 
the subject of this paper is not Meadows or the white terrorism that followed Recon- 
struction in Louisiana, but rather the historiography of those topics. The situation of 
William Meadows points nut the local resources that scholars have, at best, underutilized, 
and, at worst, neglected, overlooked or ignoredn Most of che secondary sources on the 
Reconstruction em, even those works specifically on Louisiana or the constitutional 
conventions of the time, barely mention Wi lliam Meadows. If they do, it is but to say 
he was a Constitutional convention delegate who was a former slave, or that he was a 
farmer. Some sources mention that he was murdered the year after the convention. Only 
Allen Trelease, in his book White Terror, devotes a paragraph to Meadows. Vet Meadows 
was a key figure in the convention, and there are voluminous derails about his murder 
to be found in the report of the Joint Committee (LA Constitutional Convention; I A 
General Assembly; Trelease 95). 

The Joint Committee was organized at the end of July 1868, to investigate the 
violence and intimidation that occurred during the presidential election. The members 
of the committee were Hugh J. Campbell and W. L. "Ihompson of the Lou isiana Senate, 
and E. S. Wilson, Peter Harper and William Murreli of the House of Representatives. 
'Ihe election in question was the contest between Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, and 
Horatio Seymour, Democrat. Prior to the election, supporters of Grant were being 
threatened with violence, to include death {LA General Assembly 3-4}, 

Working daily from 9 in the morning to 10 or 1 1 at night, through the months 
of August and September, the Joint Committee investigated the events surrounding the 
election. They examined 141 witnesses, read 8 1 letters from citizens and assembled 350 
affidavits. They compiled statements from the press, as well. They made their report on 
September 24, 1868, and this report included verbatim witness testimony about many 
aspects of election-related violence, Including descriptions of the reputation and murder 
of William Meadows, Much of the testimony in the reporr was obtained by the com- 
mittee despite the fear of witnesses to conic forward, because of the threat of violence, 
even death, at the hands or "lawless and disloyal" neighbors. Other witnesses insisted 
on the condition of anonymiry for the same reason (LA General Assembly 5). 

The committee believed that the murders and violence they found represented 
only a fraction of what actually occurred, and had their investigation lasted longer, they 
would have found many more "murders and outrages. B The committee concluded that 
the responsibility for the violence rested not only wirh the direct perpetrators but also 
with ' that large and respectable class of people" who, out of apathy and silence, allow 
"such miscreants to loam at large unpunished" (LA General Assembly 6). 

Howard White has described the atmosphere in Louisiana after the Civil War as one 
of hate, "created by decades of sectional bitterness and four years of fighting. . . . The most 
vexing of all questions in an atmosphere of political confusion and economic disruption 
66 The Mind's Eye 



Jiifi Voogd 

was the role of the Negro in the new order. Four million released slaves formed a veri- 
table horde of displaced persons." Confederate leaders had left the state when the federal 
government moved in, "leaving rival factions ranging from conservative Democrats to 
Radical Republicans to battle for political control of Louisiana" (3, 6). Even before the 
Ku Ktux Klan, Louisiana was home to the White Camellias, founded in St. Mary Parish 
in 1867 by Colonel Aldbiade DeBlanc. This was a French Creole neighborhood near 
New Orleans. The White Camellias were not as violent nor as secretive as the Klan, but 
they were as strong in their dedication to white supremacy (Trelease 93). 

The Constitutional Convention on which William Meadows served resolved the 
fallowing measures: Ir mandated universal desegregated education; it prohibited racial 
discrimination in public places; and it excluded French, forbidding any language other 
than English to be used for legal publications. 

The most offending clause, according to most analysts, was "All persons shall enjoy 
equal rights and privileges upon any conveyance of a public character; and all places of 
business, or of public resort, or for which a license is required by eithet State, Parish, 
or Municipal authority, shall be deemed places of public character and shall be opened 
to the patronage of all persons, without distinction or discrimination on account of 
race or color." Joe Gray Taylor has noted the 1 868 constitution as being more succinct, 
prescient and democtatic than any of the constitutions that came before it. As he has 
said eloquently, "It was a constitution under which the state could have lived in peace 
had good men held office and had Louisiana whites been willing to accept Negroes as 
free and politically equal citizens. But the officeholders were too often venal, and in their 
hearts Louisiana whites had made no real concessions" (152, 155). 

These measures offended not only white racists but also French Creoles, compii- 
caring the tension in certain patishes, as some French Creoles were black; hence the 
conventioneers made enemies on both sides of the racial divide. 1 In Claibotne Parish, 
"on election days, it was unsafe for any man, white or black, openly to advocate rhe 
adoption of or vote for" the constitution, "owing to the hostile feeling of the white 
people who were opposed to said instrument" (LA General Assembly 20) . Taylor found, 
in the Warmorh Papers, "that many blacks of Claiborne Parish were kept from the polls 
by threarsrhat they would be driven from their homes" (158). 

In early 1868, the Democratic Party appeared to be gaining ground in the North. 
Consequently, the "mood ofwllite Louisiana became [even] more belligerent." It seemed 
as if a Democratic presiden t could be elected, and if that could happen, a swift end 
would come to Radical Reconstruction. Realizing that in a "fair election, the Democrats 
could not possibly carry Louisiana , . . [i]t was only natural, therefore, that determined 
Democrats should turn to force and fraud to achieve their ends." For Louisiana to elect 

1 For further illumination on the cension between and inrerwnvenness of Creole heritage and race, and 
the role of "Creoles of color," see Rodnlphe Lucicn Desdunes. Our People and Our Hitlnry: Fifty Creole 
Portraits, Translated and edited by Sister Dorothea Olga McCancs, Daughter of the Cross (Baton Rouge: 
Louisiana UK 2001). 



The Mind's Eye 67 



jan Voogd 

Seymour, "ever)' possible Democratic vote had to be case, and a large number of Negroes 
had to be persuaded or coerced to vote Democratic or stay ar home on election day. . . . Hie 
planrer class had always felt that it should be able to control the vote of its totmer slaves, 
and now it set our ro do so." While economic intimidation was often enough, "white 
Louisianans did not hesitate to resort to violence in the summer and fall of 1868 , . . 
the pressure upon Negroes was constant. When Governor Hen ry Clay Warmoth spoke 
out against violence in August, he was castigated by the [press]" (Taylor 154-67). In 
the election held November 3, 1868, Seymour won in Louisiana. 

Howard White has found evidence of this intimidation as well, identifyi ng "persua- 
sion, economic pressure, and terroristic merhods [that! were used to intimidate Negro 
voters in 1868. . . . [L]awyers and doctors announced that they would refuse to serve 
Negro clients who voted Republican; . . . planters made it known that they would neither 
hire them nor grind grist for them; and whites in New Orleans proposed a boycott of 
Radical Negro barbers, draymen, cabmen, and artisans" (149-50). In Claiborne Parish 
specifically, men armed and wielding notebooks and pencils threatened death to anyone 
recorded as favoring the Radical ticket, and this went on for monrhs. Tire sheriff was 
cowed as well, and the authorises did nothing ro stop the intimidation (Tfelease 95). 

lfiis was the scene in which William Meadows lived, but thetc are few clues 
readily available in the srandard sources ro understand who he was. A poster ot all the 
black members of the 1868 Constitutional Convention shows Meadows next to P. B, 
S. Pinchback, the de facto leader of their group. Was Meadows literally Pinchback's 
"tight-hand man," as he seems to be portrayed in the poster, ot is his placement there 
merely happenstance? The proceedings of the convention list Meadows in attendance 
at every session, and the tally of votes on each issue indicates his views. Beyond that, 
everything we currently know is found in one obscure state report, a report that one 
might never think of consulting — the Report of the Joint Committee of the General As- 
sembly of Louisiana on the Conduct of the Late Elections, and the Condition of Peace and 
Order in the State (LA General Assembly). 

The "Hon. William R. Meadows, colored, a member of the late Constitutional 
Convention, was murdered in his own yard soon after rhe election of 1 7th and 18th 
of April, 1868." The Joint Committee obtained much of its informarion from Brevet 
Major General Edward Harch, Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau. 
Hatch, along with Major General O. O. Howard, Commissioner, was very helpful ro 
the committee. Bureau officials, unlike rheir predecessors, Colonel Warren and Brevet 
Major General Buchanan (LA General Assembly 19). This illustrates a tension in place 
during this time, as described by John A. Carpenter: "The dispute is over the degree of 
i ntensiry and seriousness of the attocities. If they were as bad as the Radical Republicans 
maintained . . . then there was grearer justification" for rhe involvement of the federal 
government in Reconstruction in the South. "Southerners could nor be trusted to deal 
fairly with the fteedmen and Unionists and furthermore were actively engaged in a pro- 
gram of oppression and violence against these groups. On the other hand, if the reports 
68 The Mind's Eye 



Jan Vvogd 

of atrocities were either largely untrue or so grossly exaggerated that they deserved to be 
ignored, Congressional interference only made matters worse" (234-47). This Tension 
over whether to accept the governments version of the situation duting Reconstruction 
has lingered for many decades, despite the varying and sometimes extreme levels of 
racial violence of the ensuing years. Since we know racial violence to have been a reality 
in recenr history, it is quite reasonable to now revisit these sources that wete pteviously 
discounted as questionable, or possibly cxaggerared, for political reasons. 

The Joint Committee teport contains sworn testimony. Melvin McDonald testified 
under oath before N. J. Scott, Justice of the Peace, that Meadows was shot three times 
on his way back to his house from the stable, about 50 yards away, where he had been 
feeding his horse. W. W. Bennett, MD, acting as coroner, examined Meadows and testi- 
fied that he had three gunshot wounds, and either of the first two, one in the head, one 
in die heart, would have been enough to kill him (LA General Assembly 43—44), 

Most poignant of all is the eyewitness testimony of Meadows' wife, tecorded by 
William Stokes, Assistant Sub-Assistant Commissioner, Bureau R. F. and A, I,., Clai- 
borne Parish. "1 was out in rhe yard milking the cow when my husband passed going 
to the stable; my little son was with him; as soon as I was done 1 went into the kitchen 
with the milk; the kitchen is about 20 yards from the house; my little boy and his rather 
were returning from the stable; my little boy turned off to come to me, and before he 
had reached rhe kitchen he heard someone call 'Meadows'; his farher looked toward 
the kitchen, thinking it was I called him; at that moment he was shot; my boy saw him 
fall; he [was not] more than ten steps from his father when rhe firsr shots were fired; my 
boy is eight years old; I j umped out of the kitchen door and looked atound at the men, 
and called for the gun; after 1 teached my husband they fired again, making three shots 
in all; 1 saw the guns in the men's hands; when I reached my husband he was dead; the 
men stood there and 1 asked them who they wete, they made no answet" (LA General 
Assembly 44—45). 

The wife's testimony indicates that the murder was purposeful, not random, as 
the shooter knew Meadows by name. This is a crucial detail, one to note. How likely is 
it that Stokes would have had political reasons to have the detail fabricated or planted 
in the testimony? 

Her testimony continues. "Ir was just about dark; they were dressed in black 
clothes; I saw them plain enough to know they were white men; 1 think they wore 
black hats; their clothes all looked dark; my first impression was that one of them was 
Newton Glover ... I think the other was John Taylor; I am not sure of him. This man 
Glover threatened to kill my husband some time before; the Glover family seemed to 
be very much against my husband, and were always trying to meddle with him in some 
way, Mr. Cartet, f.m.c, told my husband ten days before he was killed, that Newton 
Glover said that he held my husband's life in his pocket, and if he did not leave in two 
weeks he would be killed. . . . My husband was five years away from me," she contin- 
ued, "and served three years in the Federal army. The people refused to let him stay in 

The Mind's Eye 63 



Jan Vosgd 

the country when he first returned from the war, and many said he was not safe" (LA 
General Assembly 44—45). 

It is notable that Meadows' wife named white men as rhe shooters, because politics 
were complicated in the area, and conflict abounded that was political rather than racial 
According to Joe Gray Taylor, there were both Negro Radicals and Negro Democrats, 
among whom differences were sometimes distinct and contentious (158), If Meadows 
was mutdered by white men, his death occurred for racial or political reasons. If he was 
murdeied by black men, his death could be interpreted as a manifestation of complex 
internal black politics, or some othet conflict altogether. 

The Joinr Committee included a report by Captain Sterling, A.A. 1 . General, that 
described the complicated local politics in which Meadows was embroiled. Sterling 
conveyed the words of W, F. Blackmail, a state senator— elect, who said that Meadows 
was the lead orator ar a Republican Party meeting held in Homer. "7he frecdmen came 
into town with banners, and in martial array." Meadows fell into conflict with John L. 
Lewis, a white Republican from Minden, "Lewis was nominated lot parish judge and 
accepted the nomination, and while speaking he was insulted by Mr. Newton Clover, 
who made a personal reflection on his character, Lewis threw a glass of water in Glover's 
face. Glover drew his pistol .. . and the sheriff arrested Glover." Glovet was the man 
who had threatened Meadows' life shortly before the murder. 

In just this one report from Sterling, we have Meadows in conflict with Lewis, 
who is in conflict with Clover, who is in conflict with Meadows, and the conflict does 
nor end there. "Toward evening, at a gathering, Meadows made use of these words: 'I 
think any white man should be taxed until he could no longer hold his lands.' A Mr. 
Ewmg was present, and a few angry words passed between him and Meadows. I do 
not know what they were except that Mr. Ewing called Meadows a liar, and eventually 
kicked Meadows." This, too, was not the last of Meadows' conflicts. "Meadows had a 
difficulty with a negro by rhe name of Frank; he went to Frank and told him [Frank] 
was harboring white men ro kill him (Meadows). Frank denied it. I do not know what 
has become of Frank; he is nor here now." There was also a report of a white stranger, 
who had served in the Union army, coming to town and asking Meadows' permission 
to stay overnight on his land, "a short distance from Mf. Shaltow's mills, near Homer." 
Meadows denied him permission, according to his wife, telling the man "he had no 
accommodations for white men." Most officials were on record, if at all, as favoring this 
anonymous stranger as the likely murderer (LA General Assembly 45-5 1). 

The inclusion of Sterling's report lends credibility to the entire Joint Committee 
endeavor. By providing information that clouds the motive for Meadows' murder, the 
potential political advantage the Joint Committee could have allowed itself by making 
his murder look like simple racist violence is untapped. There is, however, the reality 
that no one was ever held responsible for Meadows' murder, despite the many leads 
and potential suspects. N, J. Scott, the justice of the peace, reported, "I measured the 
tracks found in the sand where the parties are supposed to have stood who murdered 
70 The Mind's Eye 



Jan Vaogd 

Meadows. I retain the measure in my office." William Stokes concludes by saying that 
the "measure of the footprints in the sand, now in the office of Judge Scott, might give 
a good detective a clue, which followed up might lead to the detection of the party or 
parties." All indications are that this clue was left unpursued. 

Trelease, in White Terror, has noted the value of the documents produced by state 
govetnments. "It was long customary to scoff'at these reports or dismiss them as biased, 
as with the Congressional documents, bur under the usual rules of historical evidence 
they must be taken setiously." In addition, federal and state govetnments have archives 
of unpublished material , such as governors' correspondence, that offer a potential cache 
of information about facial violence, the Klan and the efforts of the government to deal 
with it (525). 

In the case of William Meadows, we must weigh the motive of the seated Louisiana 
General Assembly to report on the election violence, and consider whether it served them 
in any way to exaggerate the account of Meadows' murder. If Meadows' wife reports 
that the shooters were whire, does that somehow reflect positively on the government? 
Certainly, the mention of the murder's raking place in front of their eight-year-old son 
makes the shootets seem ctuelct. Does this enhance [he standing of the local government? 
If so, perhaps the account has been edited in some way, The additional reports, however, 
which describe rhe many people with whom Meadows had conflicts, lend credibility to 
[he work by demonstrating that rhe Joint Comm i tree did not limit its reporring to only 
those facrs that would suppo rt rheir views. In any case, the state government of Louisiana 
provides an account to consider, an account rhat is a rich vein to mine. Indeed, biased 
or, not, censored or not, exaggerated or not, the usefulness of documents produced by 
local governments will vary with rhe attitude and motives of the local people involved, 
"the fact remains that these sources give us something to consider, something to analyze, 
something to deconstruct. We dismiss or ignore these sources ar our peril; the danger 
is the possibility of overlooking a truth that has survived. 



Ihe Mini's Eyel\ 



Jan Voogd 

Works Cited 

Carpenter, John A. "Atrocities in the Reconstruction Period." The Journal of Negro 
History 47, 4 (Oct. 1962), 

Louisiana Constitutional Convention ( 1 867- 1 868). Official journal of the Proceeding 
of the Convention for Framing a Constitution for the State of Louisiana. New 
Orleans: J. B, Roundandex, Printers to the Convention, 1867-1868. 

Louisiana General Assembly. Report of the Joint Committee of the Central Assembly of 
Louisiana on the Conduct of the Late Elections, and the Condition of Peace and 
Order in the State, New Orleans: A. L. Lee, State Printer, 1 868. 

Taylor, Joe Gray. Louisiana Reconstructed, 1863-1877, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State 
UP, 1970. 

Trelease, Ailen W White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Recon- 
struction. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1979. 

White, Howard A. The Freedmeris Bureau in Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana 
State UP, 1970. 



72 Ihe Mind's Eye 



"Like Limbs from a Tree": 
Home and Homeland in 
Caryl Phillips' Crossing 
the River 

BY KHALIAH MANGRUM 

American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more 
terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. 

— James Baldwin 



In his novei Crossing the River, Caryl Phillips pieces together a history for the voice- 
less souls of years past. A people for. whom full possession of body and mind, of 
labor and leisure remain a longed-for dream axe granted the power of posterity 
through Phillips multilayered narration. Manning Marable argues that "reennstr act- 
ing the hidden, fragmented past of African-Americans can be accomplished with a 
multidisciplinary methodology ... an approach [he calls] 'living history " (xxj. Phillips 
uses this very approach to fill in the spaces left blank by slave autobiography, abolition- 
ist biography and historical account. Although a work of fiction, the novel serves as 
biography* autobiography and historical narrative, thus challenging the completeness 
of current historical record while providing an antidote for its lack. 

This idea of ''living history'* is one that Phillips, in the ttadition of Toni Mor- 
rison, seizes as a means of historical agency. He desires to write the story of those who 
have no voice, those whose lack of power puts them outside the annals of conventional 
history, He does so by discussing the politics of space, the physical reality by which all 
other life processes depend. For Phillips, the tragedy begins when one's space becomes 
barren, when "crops failed" (Crossing 1). In essence, these "failed crops" are symbolic 

The Minds Eye 73 



Khaliah Mangrum 

representations of the descendants of the kidnapped Africans who were ripped from 
the soul of their homeland and often died (either spiritually or literally) in a physical 
(and social) space whose poisons uproot and desrroy. However, the novels view is not 
one of complete annihilation. Several times in the work, Phillips speaks of "sinking . . . 
hopeful roots into difficult soil" (1). Throughour rhe novel, he challenges us to imagine 
the journey of a people who, although outside the space of homeland, somehow carry 
forth the reality of home into an often dark and cold spirirual landscape. 

This task of speaking for those who are silenced is one that threads through rhe 
bulk of Phillips' work. Indeed, he excels in writing "novelfs] that attempr historical 
reconstruction in order to interrogate and, possibly, rewrite the European tecord" 
(O'Callaghan 34). Although O'Callaghan was speaking of another of Phillips' novels, 
Cruising the River also "wears the mask of fiction" in order ro "cast doubt on the very 
possibility of definitive historical construction" (34, 47). Chinosole further argues that 
"there is no strict delineation berween history and fiction but a rough approximation 
of inrerpretive differences" (47). It is this murky area of "interpretive differences" that 
Phillips lahnrs to make clear. 

The novel begins by telli ng of a farher in Africa who sel Is his children, Nash, Martha 
and Travis. The story of these characters spans 250 years, yet the "desperate father" of the 
first few pages lays claim to them all as they each suffer individual loss. Although time and 
circumstances make each unique, their commonality lies in the body/soul divide created 
via ttansatlantic slavery. The rather sci-fi rreatment of time brings home the realization 
that the kidnapping of these Africans is, indeed, a generational reality that speaks to the 
present and future as much as it does to the past. We learn of Nash, a missionary and 
ex-slave sent to Liberia; Martha, a fugitive slave woman seeking her long-lost daughter; 
and Travis, an American CI who falls in love with a white Englishwoman duting the 
Second World War. While celling the stories of three individuals "broken-off, like limbs 
from [the] tree" of home and homeland (2), the novel narrates the story of millions 
whose displaced voices ring through the centuties and into our present reality. 

"Bit first powerful pages of the novel detail the tearing away of three children from 
their home and homeland after being sold into slavery by rheir own father. The novel 
opens with a desperately short phrase and two equally brief sentences whose syncopated 
cadence mi mics the cries of one rife with sorrow. The nameless narrator cries, "A desperate 
foolishness. The crops failed. 1 sold my children" ( 1 ). These three lines in their brutal cando r 
and breviry strike the reader as offensive and so unbelievable as to be almost absutd, 
thus echoing rhe difficulty of many in grasping the full scale of complicity (among both 
Africans and Eurupeans) in the kidnapping, murder and enslavement of so many millions. 
A father hoping perhaps to stave off hunger and self-destruction deliveted his children 
into the hands of a slave ttadet, severing them from himself and their place of origin 
and ensuring that home would forever be a tenuous and often uncertain destination. 
Ibis nameless father's desperate act compares to that of Esau of the Old Testament, who 



74 The Mind's Eye 



Khaliah Mdngrum 

sold his inheritance for a mess of pottage. Those three lines appear again at rhe end of 
the two-page intra, couching the entire work in desperation, loss and atrocity. 

The guilty father later uses language that alludes to the biblical Pilate, as well as to 
Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. "1 soiled my hands with cold goods in exchange for their 
warm flesh." Like his literary and historical predecessors, the owner of these ''soiled 
hands" is subsequently haunted by the "chorus of a common memory" (1). He of the 
"soiled hands" represents those, white and black, responsible for separating millions of 
fellow human beings from their homeland and too often from one another. 

In J})e Atlantic Sound, Phillips details the nature of the "cold goods" for which the 
father traded his children. He notes that "goods, be they guns, glassware, irun bars or 
liquor, would be exported from England to rhe West coast of Africa" (40). The exchange 
of "flesh" for "goods" marked a pivotal turn in rhe lives of rhe individuals kidnapped, 
as well as the lives of their descendants. In addirion to hundreds of years of enforced 
slavery and the evils ir entails, the descendants of these Africans, the frviit born of these 
' broken limbs." mnst bear the burden of a complicated and tenuous identity Phillips 
writes of an experience he has when flying ro Ghana with a native Ghanaian, 

In our short rime together I have listened to him sing a discordant anthem 
of indignation, J.ike me, he is the product of British imperial adventures. 
Unlike me, he is an African. A Ghanaian. A whole man. A man of one place. 
A man who will never flinch at the question, "Where are you from?" A man 
going home. (126) 

Phillips guilty father of Crossing the River proves a major catalyst in this break in 
identity and reappears at the end of the novel. He represents the nature of the rupture 
berween Africa and those of rhe diaspora. Indeed, he asserts, "There is no return" (2), 
rhat a true horrrecorning is no longer attainable. Ihe relationship between this father 
and his children, berween Africa and its diaspora, is forever changed, changed utterly. 
This begs the question, is there a possibility of home, of homeland for the descendants 
of those who traveled the ocean towatd bedlam? 

In response to this question, Crossing the River complicates and rethinks the con- 
cepts of home and homeland. In this four-part epic spanning three centuries, a desperate 
Father's "foolishness" demonstrates that "there is no strict delineation between history 
and fiction" (Chinosole 22). Both Nash, living in 19th-century Liberia, and Travis, 
an American soldier in 20th-century England, prefer to stay where they are rather 
than face the debilitating homelessness created by American slavery and the racism and 
discrimination it produces. So if home is not the place where one was born, what is it? 
What factors lead to the African diaspork subjects feeling "at home" even when torn 
from homeland? 

In Phillips' novel, "home" exists as a loved and familiar physical space as well as 
a lifestyle and stance toward life. Travis, a young black man from the American South, 
walks down the street with a white woman he is romantically pursuing, an action that 

The Minds Eye 75 



Khaliab Mangrum 

would have been a self- inflicted death sentence in the place of his birth. Later in his 
story, he repeatedly warns Joyce, the woman he loves, that they can never live in the 
United States. Further, Nash, the Liberian missionary, notes that in Liberia, his blackness 
is not a stain of inferiority but a normative reality. He writes to his white benefactor, 
and ex-owner, "Africa should be a land of freedom, for where else can the man of color 
enjoy his liberty" (32). These men find a sense of home in the agency that their new 
social standing affords them. 

However, for the descendants of those who unwillingly traveled the Atlantic to 
Europe and the New World, any notion of homeland will always possess a sense of 
doubleness, a division of self similar to W. E. B. Du Boisft idea of double conscious- 
ness. Du Bois writes: 

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing 
to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and 
truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves ro be lost. 
He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the 
world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white 
Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. 
He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an 
American, wirhout being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having 
the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face. {Souls 4) 

Valerie Smith also speaks of the doubleness experienced by the black diasporic 
subject as seen in the narrative of Olaudah Equiano, who, while praising the ideal quali- 
ties of Africa, and even in light of the violence of slavery, is grateful for the Christian 
religion that contact with Europeans afforded him. She writes, "Equiano's narrative 
retains a quality of doubleness that correlates with the complex i uterrelation between his 
origin and socialization" (13). We witness a similar divide with Nash, when he echoes 
Equiano by saying: 

I was fortunate enough ro be born in a Christian country, amongst Christian 
parents and friends, and that you [Edward, his ex-master] were kind enough 
to take me, a foolish child, from my parents and bring me up in your own 
dwelling as something more akin to a son than a servant. (21) 

Being "taken" away from his birth family is the first fracture Nash experiences, 
and. like Equiano, he counts it as a blessing. When he is sent away from the country of 
his birth, however, he speaks favorably of Liberia as "a glorious asylum . . . under the 
protection of a wise God" (26). The word "asylum" is charged with political overtones 
of one who is in exile, a survivor fleeing a place of moral and physical perils. This use 
of language tells how Nash feels abour the nature of his political and social standing in 
America. He later notes the respect and dignity given to him in Liberia that he did not 



76 The Mind's Eye 



Kbaliah Mangrum 

enjoy in the country of his birth: 

In this republic the practice is to address me as Mr. Williams and not Boy. 
'[here are a few white people out here, and they are polite, moving to one 
side and touching their hats. In Monrovia, I have had occasion to call at 
their dwellings and to range over the suhjecrs of the day, religious and oth- 
erwise. The white man never calls me by anything but my name. I am Mr. 
Williams. (32-33) 

Marable asserts that there exists "a profound ambivalence about the entire political 
experiment commonly called "The United States of America"' (42) and notes the sense 
of "boundless hope and enduring hostility" this "experiment" induces. For what does 
it mean to be born into a place, to sacrifice ones life's blood, and that of one's children, 
and not be a full citizen? 

The difficulty of navigating physical notions of home and homeland arc seen again 
in the second narrative of the novel. Martha Randolph, her husband, Lucas, and their 
daughter, Eliza Mae, are separated when the master of their plantation dies and his 
properry, which includes the family of three, is auctioned off by the master's nephew. 
"Slaves. Farm animals- Household furniture. Farm tools ... are ro be sold in this order" 
(76). Yet Martha held to het an autonomous identity born of love, of intimate familial 
connection. Even in the face of the greed-fueled travesty of the auction block, she "held 
on to some hope" that she would sec her family, especially her daughter, again (78). 
Without this "hope," this spiritual nourishment and shelter, she would, and does, die. 
This death is not only physical but spiritual and primarily social. 

In his groundbreaking book Slavery and Social Death, Orlando Patterson speaks of 
the ways in which the degradation of the slave's life led to a breakdown of community 
and personal autonomy, leaving one "socially dead." After the loss of her own daughter, 
Beloved, Toni Morrison's Sethe says, "My mind was homeless then," suggesting that 
an individual's understanding of home is just as much a relational as a physical real- 
ity (204). 'Ihis divorce from self and others is exactly the fate that Martha sttuggles to 
escape. Sadly enough, Sethe and Martha's plight has its mirror in the historical record. 
Harriet Jacobs hides in a crawl space for seven years rather than have herself, or her 
children, face the degradation of life as a mere possession. Much of what she does is for 
the sake of her childten, her spiritual home, and unlike the typical Victorian narrative 
in which the white heroine ends up happily married, Jacobs' "happily ever after" is her 
reunion with the children she lost to slavery. It is for love of their children that Martha 
and Jacobs endure unspeakable pain. 

For many black enslaved heroines, love, like a river, carves out a hume for the soul. 
Martha speaks of the essential nature nf love. " [SJhe wondered i f freedom was more im- 
portant than love, and indeed if love was at all possible without somebody taking it from 
her" (86). Yet the gross injustice of slavery often succeeds in destroying or deforming that 



Ihe Mind's Eye 77 



Khaliah Mangrum 

love. In Morrison's Beloved, Sethc speaks of why she killed her daughter: M [IJf I hadn't 
killed her she would have died" (236)- The death of which Serhe speaks is the death of 
self that destroys not only the body but the mind and the soul as well Seine's strong love 
for her child led her to murder. Although Martha does not kill the girl wrongly taken 
from her, the separation does take its toll. Martha spends years obsessively looking for 
her daughter, and eventually goes insane. Without the love she seeks, her "mind was 
homeless* and is no longer confined by the boundaries of space and time. "[Ajssaulted 
by loneliness, and drifting into middle age without a family," Martha speaks of hearing 
voices at several rimes in the narrative (79). 

However, home can be found in relationships other than those between parent and 
child, husband and wife. Ten years after she's sold, Martha runs away when faced with 
rhe possibility of being sold once again. An older woman, and subject to the economic 
imperatives of her masrer(s), Martha faces certain death. Knowing this, she runs west 
to Dodge to live with her friend Lucy, where she meets and loves a store owner named 
Chester. While with this man, Martha seizes the miracle of finding love and home, a 
relationship that parallels Sethe's with Paul D in Beloved. However, the brutal racism 
of four white men toting guns takes Chester's life. Not too long after, Marthas friend 
Lucy gets engaged and announces an impending move to California. After this, Martha 
slips into a deep and final lethargy. 

Indeed, it is this series of ruptures, from child, from husband, from lover and 
friend, rhat leads to Martha's mental, social and physical demise. Before this final scene, 
Martha and the informed narrator share the burden of narration. There is but a small 
paragraph break and no grammatical shift between the two. This melding of voices 
mimics "the many-tongued chorus' 1 spoken of by rhe guilty father (1 ), Indeed, the only 
reason that the narrator knows more about Martha (her name, history and innermost 
fears and desires) is that he/she/it has rapped into the power of the collective memory, 
Du Bois writes, "One thing is sure and that is the fact that since the fifteenth century 
these ancestors of mine had a common history; have suffered a common disaster and 
have one long memory" (Duik 79). 

Yet, in the final scene of her life, Martha's story is no longer told by herself or from 
the point of view of this "collective memory," but from that of a kind white woman who 
takes her into her home and cares for her. When the woman checks on her the following 
morning and finds her dead, she contemplates what name this elderly black stranger 
should be given in order to bury her. The sudden shift from an informed third-person 
narrative to a well-meaning but uninformed one highlights the difficulty of writing the 
stories of those we have never known. Despite her deep and seemingly sincere degree 
of empathy, the kind woman does nor possess the tools necessary to represent Martha's 
life. Here Phillips highlights the ineffectiveness of purely objective biography as a means 
of reconstructing history. 

This appraisal is highlighted by the section that follows Marrha Randolphs nar- 
rative. Captain Hamilton, a white slave trader of the 1700s, keeps a travel journal in 
78 The Mind's Eye 



Khaliah Mangrum 



which nameless human beings (chattel and crew) act and are acted upon without any 
attention paid to their autonomy as individuals. Curiously, one of the lines spoken by 
the timeless and desperate father, "2 strong man-boys, and a proud girl," is also written 
in Hamilton's 19th-century journal (124). However, the father speaks of these three 
as treasured human children, while Hamilton's notation is one of cataloging potential 
profit. Hamilton's reason for recording the events that took place on his ship Is one 
of expediency. Again, Phillips makes clear the often ignored connections that slavery 
makes between people of different times, places and social castes. Hamilton later writes, 
Tbey huddle together, and sing their melancholy lamentations. We have lost sight of 
Africa" (1 24). Again this statement contrasts with those of the first page concerning the 
"many-tnngued chorus" (1). 

This problem of telling the story of those who speak no more or whose voices 
are limited by circumstance is not a new one. Smith writes, "In each stage of their his- 
tory, the presence of an intermediary renders the majority of the [slave] narratives not 
artistic constructions of personal experience but illustrations of someone else's view of 
slavery" (9). However, all of the characters 1 "identities] depend on [their] discovery of 
a narrative" (135). 

The nameless father speaks of "the chorus of a common memory"(l). This chorus 
includes the millions, past, present and future, whose souls have lost their homes. Several 
of Toni Morrison's novels share a similar vision and, like Crossing the River, use flashbacks 
to employ a sort of fluid treatment of narrative time and place and, in doing so, create 
room for the members of this 'common memory 1 ' to smg the dirge of the diasporic 
masses. Indeed* the narrator notes that "through some atavistic mist, Martha peered 
back east, beyond Kansas, back beyond her motherhood, het teen years, her arrival in 
Virginia, to a smooth white beach where a trembling girl waited with two boys and a 
man ' (73), Later, after being separated from her family for several months* Martha hears 
"voices from the past. Some she recognized. Some she did not" (79). This experience is 
similar to that described in Beloved. 

In Morrisons Sula^ Milkman speaks of "some chord or pulse or information [he 
and his ancestors] shared" (296). For those of the African diaspora, "identity is a col- 
lective rather than an individual construct, and [is defined! in relation to a broad sense 
of history and community" (Smith 136). Sterling Bland also writes of the collective 
function of individual slave narratives. He argues, "In seeking to authorize a place for 
themselves fugitive slave narrators end up telling their own stories (and creating meaning) 
by essentially telling the stories of others; the individual life presented within the story is 
very mnch a function of the collective stories of all who contribute to the black experi- 
ence" (160). Indeed, "\Sula] suggests the impossibility of creating an identity outside 
of social relations" (Smith 131). In both Phillips' and Morrisons novels, there seems 
to be a connection between identity and relationships with others, relationships built 
on varying levels of selfless love and mutual respect. Martha speaks of being "assaulted 
by loneliness . . . without a family" (79), and as the result of this lack eventually loses 

'{he Minds Eye 7<) 



Khatiab Mmigrum 

her identity as Marrha. When she embarks on a journey with a group of black pioneers 
heading west, Martha seeks not only an opportunity to " [prospect for a place where 
your name wasn't 'boy or 'aunty' and where you cou Id be a part of this country withou t 
feeling like you wasn't a part," but a community that helps make this vision possible, 
However, she fails in forging meaningful relationships wfth "these colored pioneers," 
and when she becomes deathly ill, her traveling companions drop her off in a rown 
without money, food or shelter {Crossing 93). While in this town, Martha is' nameless, 
lacking identity; no one calls her by name. It is only in her flashbacks rhat she has real 
relationships, and consequently a name and a home. 

Martha's near-death flashbacks flesh out the notion of home that Crossing the 
River explores, Phillips writes that Martha "had a westward soul which had found irs 
natural-bom home in the bosom of her daughter 1 '{.Crossing 94). For Marrha, home 
outside relationship is not a home worth having. This raises the question of whether it 
is possible to find a home without finding a love worth cultivating. 

Wesley Kort argues that there are three disrinct categories of space: cosmic, social 
and personal (150). I contend rhat in order fot an individual to be securely sthota€ s all 
three distinctions must be met. Ootisider Martha and how before the initial rupture 
home included a stable plantation with a kind master (cosmic), a small and loving 
family (social) and an emotional space that allowed for love and tenderness (personal). 
In no case do I argue rhat Martha was content with the life of a slave. Instead, 1 offer 
the analogy of a small cottage with a modest fireplace'and a dirt floor, swept dean, the 
cottage in which we find her most at home. This is the spiritual home in which she 
dwelt, a home with much wanting (freedom, dignity, autonomy), but home nonetheless. 
Stripped bare of all things that could make some conception of home possible, Martha 
becomes homeless, physically, mentally and spiritually. 

The metaphot of a tree and its broken limbs first emerges when rhe "father con- 
sumed with guilt" tells his children they "ate beyond" homeland and possess only the 
hope that they will "[sink their] hopeful roots into difficult soil" (2), Moments before 
Lucas tells Marrha of their masters death, she "[heard ] the crickets, rheir shrill voices 
snapping, like twigs being broken from a ttee" (76). 

Although the rupture from origin is violent, it does not mean automatic death. 
A type of life is still possible. The imagery of tree brings to mind not only the growth 
and possibility creared from broken limbs but the teality of generational creation. More 
specifically, the father, as tree, produces limbs that are raken away from him and produces 
generations who in turn produce generations, thus creating the possibility of new birth 
and life. The goal, then, is to create a space of fteedom where individuals like Martha 
and Nash ate protected from the sort of soul evictions enslavement induces. This is the 
task toward which we struggle. 

Manning states, "History is mote than the consttuction of collective experiences 
... the architcctute of a people's memory, framed by our shared rituals, traditions, and 
notions of common sense. It can be a ragged bundle of hopes, especially for those who 
80 The Mind's Eye 



Khaliah Mangrum 



have been relegated beyond society's brutal boundaries" (i). Phillips blends fiction and 
historical record and does so through a myriad of perspectives. Tills blending works 
together toward a vision of truth, love and freedom that will provide a spiritual home 
for the many homeless souls of the diaspora. 

Works Cited 

Baldwin, James. http://www.brainyquotexom/quates/authorc/j/james_aj^aldwiti. 
html. 

The Bible, Kingjames Version. 

Bland, Sterling Lecarer. Voices of the Fugitives: Runaway Slave Stories and Their Fictions 

of Self-Creation. Westport, CT; Greenwood, 2000. 
Chinosole. The African Diaspora & Autobiographies: Skeins of Self and Skin. New 

York: Lang, 2001. 

Du Bois, W E. B, Dusk of Dawn: An Fssay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. 

New Brunswick: Transaction, 1 940. 
. The Souls of Black Folk www.bardeby.com. 

Kort, Wesley A. Place and Space in Modern Fiction. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 
2004. 

Marable, Manning. Living Black History: How Rcimagmmg the African-American Past 

Can Remake America's Racial Future. New York: Basic Civecas, 2005. 
Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Plume, 1987. 
. Sula. New York: Penguin, 1973. 

O'Callaghan, Evelyn. "Historical Fiction and Fictional History: Caryl Phillips's 
Cambridge," The journal of Commonwealth Literature 28 (1993): 34^7. 

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: 
Harvard UP, 1982. 

Phillips, Caryl. The Atlantic Sound. New York: Knopf, 2000. 

.Crossing the River. New York: Knopf, 1994. 

Smith, Valerie. Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge, 
MA: Harvard UP, 1987. 



The Mind's Eye 81 



An Appeal to the Citizens 
of Academe: Why David 
Walker and Nat Turner 
Belong in the Classroom 

BY MARK R. CHEATHEM 

At the beginning of a course on the black experience in America, I took an infor- 
mal poll of my nine students, all of whom were history or social studies educa- 
tion majors. "How many of you have heard of David Walker?" No hands raised. 
"Nat Turner?" One hand Tentatively went up. "Good. Whar is Nat Turner remembered 
for?" A shrug of shoulders. "Okay. "What about Frederick Douglass?" Nearly all of the 
hands wen: up. "He was a former slave who wrote his autobiography," one particularly 
bright student confidently asserted. "Good, 1 " I responded. "Does Harriet Tubman ring 
a bell?" Heads nodded. "She founded the Underground Railroad" was one answer that, 
while not altogether accurate, received affirmation from the other students. 

lhat the students knew who Douglass and Tubman were but not Walker and 
Turner IS not .surprising. I never heard the names of the latter two mentioned until I 
was in graduate school. Whether that was because of my southern origins, my lack of 
interaction with African-Americans before college or my own ignorance (or perhaps a 
combination) I do not know. After eight years of teaching undergraduate students in 
both Mississippi and New Hampshire, however, I am convinced, at the risk of setting 
up a straw- man argument based simply on my own anecdotal evidence, that most 
students have not a due as to who these two men were and why they are important in 
understanding the hisrory of race, nationalism and revolution in the United States. If 
you will indulge me, T would like to give a brief biographical sketch of each mans life, 
then give some of rhe reasons [ believe they belong in the classroom, 

Often ignored in American history, David Walker was, i n many ways, one of the 
primary founders of the antebellum abolirionist movement. As with many southern 
African- Americans, the details of his childhood are largely lost to history. He was probably 
82 The Mind's Eye 



Mark R. Cheatbem 



born in 1796 in Wilmington, North Carolina; his mother was likely a free black and his 
father a slave. At some point> probably in the early 1820s, be headed north, eventually 
winding up in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1825. There he married, joined an African 
Masonic lodge and became a member of the May Street Church, a black Methodist 
congregation. Walkers association with the lodge and the church also introduced him 
to Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper in the United States, and he became 
one of its principal agents in Boston. Additionally, he helped found the Massachusetts 
General Colored Association, an organization that looked to unite African -Americans 
in opposition to slavery and in favor of improving the quality of 1 ife for blacks. 1 

In September 1 829, Walker's pamphlet Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World 
appeared in print. Subsequently published in three editions, Walker's work was, in the 
words of one historian, "one of the most neglected yet most important political and 
social documents of the 19th century." Calling the "coloured people of these United 
States . . . the most wretched, degraded and abject set of beings that ever lived since the 
world began," Walker channeled the frustration of his people into a call for action. Partly 
a denunciation of the institution of slavery and the racism that accompanied it, partly 
an endorsement of black resistance, Appeal was a rhetorical masterpiece. 2 

Appeal's preamble indicated the grounds upon which Walker would fight his 
written war against the southern slave system. He primarily centered his arguments on 
religious principles, historical examples and republican ideology. Article 1, tided "Our 
Wretchedness in Consequence of Slavery," emphasized his: belief that American blacks 
had suffered more insult and cruelty than even the Hebrews, God s chosen people, At 
least they had been enslaved "under heathen Pharaoh" Walker argued; his people had 
been enslaved and were being treated cruelly by the "enlightened Christians of America." 
Article III, "Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Preachers of the Religion of 
Jesus Christ," lambasted the hypocrisy of American Christianity. Its white adherents 
would send missionaries across the world to convert foreign "heathen" before they 
would show mercy to their slaves at home, Walker wrote accusingly. Instead, they would 
rather " beat a coloured person nearly to death, if they cateh him on his knees, supplicating the 
throne of graced 

Some whites blamed Walker for inciting uprisings in North Carolina and Virginia. 
It is certainly possible that blacks in those states had heard of", if not read, Appeal. Its 
long-term influence on abolition, however, is unquestionable. Maria Stewart, Frederick 
Douglass, Henry Highland Garnet, William Lloyd Garrison — all four prominent 
abolitionists (and many others) acknowledged the effect of Walker's pamphlet in 



The details of Walkers life given here tan be found in Peter ?. Minks, To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David 
Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP 1997). 

: David Walker. David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, cd. Peter P Minks (University 
Park: Pennsylvania Slate UP, 2000) xxv, 3. 

* Walker 9-20, 23, 37-45. 

Ihe Mind's Eye 83 



Mark R. Cheathem 



galvanizing opposition to slavery. Historian EricFoner has suggested that Appeal helped 
make immediate abolition the primary goal of the movement. Unfortunately tor Walker, 
he died in 1830 before he could see die culmination of his influence. 4 

Better known :o students of American history is Nat Turner. Born in 1800, Turner 
was a slave who> by his own account, from an eariy age was considered special by others. 
He supposedly was able to read without being taught and could relate events that had 
taken place before his birth. In his early 20s, Turner began to speak to his fellow slaves 
of his supernatural visions, which he believed told him of a significant event in which 
he would play an important role, [n one vision, he recalled, "I saw white spirits and 
black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened — the thunder rolled in the 
Heavens, and blood flowed in streams — and I heard a voice saying, \Suth is your luck, 
such as you are called to see, and let it come tough ot smooth, you must surely bear it.'" 
I ri another, the Holy Spirit informed Turner that he was to 'fight against the Serpent, fot 
the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first." 
"Three years later, in February 1831, the sign for which he had been waiting appeared: 
a solar eclipse. At rhat moment, Turner remembered, "The seal was removed from my 
lips, and I communicated the great work laid out for me to do."^ 

On Monday, August 22, Turner and his coconspirators killed their first whites. 
IllC initial victims were members of the Travis family on Turners own plantation. Ihey 
missed the Travises' infant son, but later doubled back and smashed his head against a 
fireplace. From there, the rebels, probably numbering fewer than 20, moved from farm to 
farm. They killect most, but not all, they found. At some farms, noticeable resisrance led 
Turners men to bypass the residence, while inhabitants at others were spared intentionally 
or by oversight. Surprisingly, Turner personally killed only one individual, a young white 
woman named Margaret Whitehead. Her death came slowly, as Turner recalled: "After 
repeated blows with a sword, I killed her by a blow on the head, with a fence rail." As the 
morning sun rose, the number of victims grew to almost two dozen, and the number of 
rebels roughly doubled. Turner seemingly lacked a plan beyond wreaking havoc among 
whites in the countryside. There was some indication that the group intended to seize 
Jerusalem, the county seat* but its members never made it that far.^ 

By midmorning on August 22, word had spread that a slave rebellion was under 
way. White patrols organized and rode out to meet the rebels. Over the next two days, 
the rebellion petered out as white resistance increased. By the end of the month, at least 
1 00 blacks, far more rhan had participated in the rebellion, had been killed in retaliation 
for the 58 whites killed on that fateful Monday. The rebels' deaths were often just as 

'"Eric foner an David Walker," accessed August 6, 2006; linp://www.pb.«.nig/wgbh/aia/parT4/4i2982.hrinl 

s Thc details OrTurncrs lire can be found in Nat Turner, The Confessions of Nut 'lurtter and Related Documents, 
ed. Kenneth $, Greenberg (New York: St- Martin's, 1996) and Kenneth S. Greenberg. ed., Nat 'lurner: A 
Slave Rebellion in History and Memory (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003). The quotations given here ate from 
Turner 46-48. 



s Tumer50. 

84 The Mind's Eye 



Mark li. Cheathem 



violent as those of their victims. Some were decapitated and had their heads placed on 
pikes at crossroads. Others were disemboweled and disfigured before and after death. The 
60-plus blacks who made it to trial faced; mixed fates. Eighteen were hanged, another 
14 were exiled from Virginia and rhe rest were freed. 

Nat Turner himself escaped capture and death by hiding in the area; he was not 
discovered and ralcen in unril October 30. Over the next several days, he was interviewed 
about his role in leading rhe rebellion. Turner agreed to allow a local attorney named 
Tliomas R. Gray ro speak with him and write down his life story. The account that Gray 
recorded served to convict Turner, who was hanged on November 1 1 . Gray s Confessions 
of Nat Turner, as it was titled, achieved a wide circulation, initially selling perhaps as 
many as 50,000 copies in three printings. 

The influence of Turner's rebellion and published confession was significant in 
shaping white attitudes toward blacks and, consequently, the growing abolitionist 
movement. Reeling from the violence carried out by both blacks and whites, Virginians 
debated the plate of slavery in their state. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, his namesake's 
grandson, introduced legislation calling for the gradual emancipation of the state's slaves. 
The legislature eventually tefused to endorse Randolphs proposal, thus solidifying the 
institution's place in Virginia. Turners rebellion also reminded white southerners that 
their slaves, and even tiieir region s free blacks, might be conspiring to mimic the actions 
of "General Nat" and his followers. 

The 1 83 1 uprising also held import for the abolitionist movement. William Lloyd 
Garrison, the editor of the Liberator newspaper and an emerging abolitionist leader, did 
not condone the rebellion. He did, however, observe that Turner "deserves a portion of 
the applause which has been so prodigally heaped upon [George] Washington, [Simon] 
Bolivar and. other heroes, for the same rebellious though more successful conduct." Robert 
Dale Owen warned white southerners that "a knowledge of the worlds history, and man's 
nature, should teach them that there is a point beyond which oppression cannot be 
endured, and they ought to anticipate the horrors of the oppressor when that day shall 
come." Turners rebellion seemingly made clear to white abolitionists in particular that 
violent revolt, while not the method they would have chosen, might be the only way 
to shake slaveholders free from their commitment to the institution of slavery. Indeed, 
they were right about the need for violence/ 

Why are Walker and Turner important to introduce to students? Let us start 
with David Walker. His emphasis on the hypocrisy of American Ghristianity and 
republicanism provided an intellectual foundation for larer abolitionists to build on, one 
that they used to good effect. For example, he wrore in Article IV of Appeal: 

See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? 
Hear yuur language, proclaimed to the world, July 4th, 1776 — "We hold 
these rrurhs ro be self evident-^-that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!! 

'Greenberg 151-53. 

The Mind's Eye ft 1 } 



Mark R. Cheathem 

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that 
among these are life, liberty? and the pursuit of happiness!!" Compare your 
own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with 
your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers 
and yourselves on our farhers and on us — men who have never given your 
fathers or you the least provocation!!!!!! 8 

By attacking the two tenets to which many, if not most, white Americans held, he 
challenged, as noted earlier, the very essence of what it meant to be both believers in the 
principles of equality and freedom as expounded by the New Testament teachi rigs of Jesus 
and, as noted here, a people ofliberty as laid out in the Declaration of Independence 
and the Constitution. 

Walker also criticized black slaves for allowing themselves to remain under the 
control of white masters. Article II, "Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Ignorance," 
indicted, though with qualifications, African^American complicity in the slave and the 
freeman's situation- Walker decried the "groveling servile and abject submission to the 
lash of tyrants' that existed among African- Americans, as well as the "ignorance . . . 
[that] gnaws into our very vitals." Slaves in particular found themselves the victims of 
diese two flaws, as they beat, spread malicious gossip about and deceived one another, 
"all to pacify the passions ot unrelenting tyrants." An observer of slaves "may see some of 
my brethren in league with tyrants, selling their own brethren into hell upon earth, not 
dissimilar to the exhibitions in Africa., but in a more secret, servile and abject manner. 
Oh Heaven! I am full!!! I can hardly move my pen!!!!" he cried upon reflection. Walker 
made it clear that these weaknesses, as offensive as they were to his sensibilities, were 
the resuh of the slave system. His chiding seemed not so much aimed at admonishing 
slaves for not pulling themselves up by the mythical bootstraps as calling for them ro 
remember their commonality as oppressed people. In other words, what affected one 
of them affected them ail. 9 

Nat Turner presents an even more complex case. His actions surpassed most 
common forms of slave resistance, which were usually passive (breaking tools or 
slowing down in the field) and individualistic (running away). As teachers, how do 
we interpret Turner? Was he the 19th-century equivalent of George Washington, Che 
Guevara, or Osama Bin Laden? Was he a terrorist, an insurgent, or a freedom fighter? 
Was he justified in leading the rebellion and, if so, how does that affect our views of 
other rebellions by oppressed peoples in more modern times? 

Consider how we remember John Brown and his raid on the federal arsenal at 
Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown is often hailed as helping generate such fear among 
southern whites, fear that their slaves were on the brink of rebellion, rhat the election of 
even the moderate Abraham Li ncoln could only have led to secession and civil war. What 

a Walker 78-79. 
' J Walker 21-36. 
86 The Mind's Eye 



Mark R- Chtathtm 



we should remember is that one reason Brown's raid was able to generate this fear was 
the memory of Nar Turner. It was the lattcr's rebellion that psychologically traumatized 
a generation of southern whites and made Browns raid effective. In fact; one has to 
wonder why we celebrate the greatness of a failed slave rebellion by a white abolitionist, 
while seemingly ignoring the successful rebellion led by a black slave. 1 " 

Turner also reminds us that the black experience in the United States has had a 
radical bent, one that does not always sit well with mainstream society. In the classroom, 
how many times do we mention Booker T. Washington but ignore W. E. B. DuBois 
because of Du Bois's support of communism? Ot how often do wc laud Marti n Luther 
King, Jr., but ovetlook Malcolm X because of" his membership in the Nation of Islam? 
Are we simply reinforcing the post- World War II consensus school of historiography 
and its emphasis on commonality, when we should be emphasizing the diversiry of 
history that challenges us to think critically about what constitutes a democratic nation 
and what defines racial equality? 

I want to conclude with a few lines fromT. D. Rice's song 'Jump Jim Crow." This 
may seem an odd choice, quoting from a song used by a Jacksonian-era minstrel. I find 
it appropriate, though, given the antebellum era's fear of black resistance and our own 
modern unwillingness ro engage our students in grappling with the changes and the 
means of change that men and women such as David Walker and Nat Turner sought. 
Despite using the language of the period, the words speak of a hope yet to be realized, 
one that depended upon both brains and brawn. 

Should dcy get to fighting, 
Perhaps do blacks will rise, 
For dcir wish for freedom, 
Is shining in their eyes. 

And if de blacks should gee free, 
I guess dey'll see some bigger, 
An I shall consider it, 
A bold stroke for the nigger, 

I'm for freedom, 
An for Union altogether, 
Although I'm a black man, 
De white is call'd my broder." 



"■See, for example, Manisha Sinha's recent review article "'His Truth Is Marching On ; John Brown and 
che Fight for Racial Justice," Civil War History 1>2 (June 2006): 161-69. 

'Quoted in John Straiisbaugh. Black Like You. Blackface. Whireface, Insult & Imitation in American Papular 
Culture (New York: Penguin, 2006) %% 

Ike Mind's Eye XI 



Contributors and Abstracts 



Kenneth J. Blume 

"The Talented Tenth and American Foreign Policy: African-Americans in the U.S. 
Diplomatic Corps, 1865-1914" 



'his paper concerns 24 African-American diplomats who served in Haiti and 



J_ Liberia from I Rfi5 to 1 91 4, The diplomats — physicians, minister educators, 
attorneys, journalists — were respected as professionals and leaders, and described 
by W. E. B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk as "conservative, careful leaders" of 
"larger vision and deeper sensibility." They demonstrated that there was dynamic 
African-American leadership long before rhe spotlight began to shine on Booker T. 
Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. The paper focuses on the contributions by these 
American diplomats to the historical record and the government's commitment to 
them in the post-Civil War eta and then the government's retreat, denial and neglect 
of them in the 20th century that lasted until the civil rights era. 

Kenneth J. Blume is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of Alts and 
Sciences at the Albany College of Pharmacy in Albany, New York. He is the author 
of the forthcoming Sable Diplomats: African Americans in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, 
1865-1914, and the Historical Dictionary of U.S. Diplomacy from the Civil War to 
World War I (2005), published by Scarecrow Press. 

Constance N, Brooks 

"Muddy Watets: W. L. B, Du Bois and the Commemorative Conttoversy over His 
Homerown's Symbolic Landscape" 

This paper examines a recent controversy in Grear Barringron, Massachusetts, 
about public commemoration of native son William E. B. Du Bois. It explores 
issues such as public memory, racial politics, patriotism, regional and national identi- 
ties and children's education, in the controversy, Du Bois is characterized both as an 
insider (a graduare of local schools and a source of pride) and an outsidet (different 
in tace and politics and a threat to the future). A close-up look at a local school- 
naming debate (Du Bois lost), the paper identifies tropes coming from all sides of 
the argument and ties pros and cons to the hisrory of public commemoration of 
African-American men and women nationally. 

Constance N. Brooks teceived het M .A. in cultural geography from Royal Holloway, 
University of London, in Surrey, U.K., in 2005. Her thesis was on the Du Bois com- 




88 The Mind's Eye 



Contributors and Abstracts 

memmoration conrrovery described above. Her coursework at the University of London 
focused on research methods such as interviews, surveys and participant observations. 

David A. Canton 

"Desegregating the Ciry of Brotherly Love: Raymond Pace Alexander and the Civil 
Rights Struggle in Philadelphia' 1 

Raymond Pace Alexander (18985—1 974) was a prominent New Negro lawyer, a 
graduate of Harvard Law School and the first African-American to be a judge 
on the Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia. He filed many desegregation lawsuits 
in Philadelphia involved with housing, jobs, education, health care and public accom- 
modations. While most civil rights scholarsh ip examines the southern struggle for civil 
rights, recently historians have been exploring the civil rights struggle in the North. 
Alexander was one of the New Negro lawyers who led the sttuggle in northern cities. 
There are many similarities in the civil righ is struggle in the North and the South, but 
Philadelphia was unique because it was a northern city with southern race relations. 
In the 1920s, for example, there were Jim Crow signs in downtown resraurants. By 
the 1930s, Philadelphia had the third largest black population in the U.S. and had 
far fewer black lawyers when compared with New York or Chicago. 

David A. Canton is the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Assistant Professor of History at 
Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. His Ph.D. dissertation exam- 
ined Judge Raymond Pace Alexander's struggle and lifetime pursuit ot equal status 
and justice. Of note for this conference are other arricles and conference papers by 
Professor Canton: "The Origins of a New Negro Lawyer, 1898-1923" in the Western 
Journal of Black Studies in 2003 ; "The New Negro Generation and the Origins of the 
Modern Civil Rights Movement, 1920-1960," November 2005; and "W. E, B. Du 
Bois and the Cultural Impact of Desegregation" for the National Council of Black 
Studies, New Orleans, Louisiana, March 2005. He is coauthot with Troy D. Allen 
of "The Souls of Black Polk— The Price of Admission: Brown v. Board of Education: 
A Du Boisian Retrospective" in Life After Brown 2005: With All Deliberate Speed: 
Looking Back and Moving Ahead, Keystone Digital Press, forthcoming. 

Mark R. Cheathem 

"An Appeal to the Citizens of Academe: Why David Walker and Nat Turner Belong 
in the Classroom" 

This paper offers a much-needed rationale for including David Walker and Nat 
Turner in the African-American history classroom, as well as including them 
as part of the African-American legacy of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and 



Jlie Mind's Eye W 



Contributors and Abstracts 



Sojourner Truth. Walker's pamphlet Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World has 
been credited with urging immediate abolition as the primary goal of the abolition- 
ist movement. Nat Turner was a Virginia slave who in 1831 led one of the deadliest 
slave revolts in U.S. history and whose actions revitalized southern opposition to 
emancipation and showed abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, rhat violence 
might be a necessary tool in the struggle against slavery. Including David Walker 
and Nat Turnet in the classroom helps students see the civil rights struggle as one 
not always conciliatory, not always nonviolent, not always willing to wait for whites 
to come to their senses, and gives a stronger foundation for the African-American 
leaders who followed them, including W E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., 
and Malcolm X. 

Mark R. Cheathem is Assistant Professor of History at Southern New Hampshire 
University. Professor Cheathem is volume editor of a collection of original essays, 
Jacksitnian America, c. 1830-1860 for the ABC-Clio series Perspectives in American 
Social History, edited by Peter Mancall , m progtess. He is the author of Old Hickory's 
Nephew: Vie Political and Private Struggles of Andrew fackson Done/sort, part of the 
Southern Biography Series, edited by Bertram Wyatr-Brown, Louisiana State Uni- 
versity Ptess, Spring 2007. 



Shawn Anthony Christian 

"From Washington, D.C., to Mexico City: Migration in The Big Sea and Zami: A 
New Spelling of My Name" 

This papet explores autobiographical works by Langston Hughes and Audre 
Lorde as "a shaping of a black self in words" (Henry Louis Gares). Hughes and 
Lorde wrire, respectively, in The Big Sea and Zami not only of a black self in words 
but also about the representations of a mobile black self whose identity is more 
fluid than fixed, 'lheir respective travels, wanderlusts and migrations — in particular, 
to Washington, D.C., and Mexico — provide a way to analyze the tole of race and 
sexuality in identity reformation, and their autobiographies position migration as a 
constant renegotiation with place and a reimagining of self as well as an accnunring 
of how place shapes idenrity. 

Shawn Anthony Christian is Assisrant Professor of English and African Studies at 
Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. He has recently presented papers titled 
"Bearing the Weight of Inheritance: Susan-Lori Parks and Lorraine Hansberry's Black 
Family Dramas" and "(An) Engaging Black Readctship: Cultivating the Younger 
Generation During the Harlem Renaissance." His article "Representing the Education 
of a Race: A Voice from the South, Up from Slavery and The Sottls of Black Folk' is under 
review. 



90 The Mind 's Eye 



Contribulon and Abstracts 

Joseph R. Fitzgerald 

"From the Bible to rhe Bullet: Five Women's Fights Against White Supremacy" 

The black- liberation struggle has required blacks in this country to use propaganda 
and petitions to argue for rheir freedom from racial oppression. Blacks also use 
other antiracist tools, such as moral suasion and armed self-defense, to secure their 
Safety and freedom. Five black women in particular exemplify this multifaceted 
hlack-liberacion struggle: Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ruby Doris 
Smith Robinson and Gloria Richardson. 

Using published biographies of Wells, Baker, Hamer and Smith Robinson, as well 
as his biography of Richardson (unpublished), Mr. Fitzgerald shows how these human 
rights activists/intellectuals sought to overthrow white supremacy. In particular, he 
illustrates how rheir socioeconomic status, religiosity, circles of family and friends, 
communities and economic and political philosophies impacted the black-liberation 
struggle and ultimately how the struggle benefited and continues to benefit from 
their activism. He also shows that these women are excellent role models for current 
social-change activists, such as those in the gay and lesbian and amiglobaJization 
movements. 

Joseph R. Fitzgerald is Assistant Professor of History at Gloucester County Col- 
lege, New jersey. His biography of Gloria Richardson, Days of Wine and Roses: The 
Life of Gloria Richardson, was his Ph.D. dissertation, awarded byTemple University 
in 200 3- Mr. Fitzgerald has taught at Drexel University, Empire State College and 
Oahrini College. In addition ro extensive research on Gloria Robinson, he presented 
his paper "Interracial Organizing in Southern Un ions During the Jim Crow Era" 3 at 
the Race and Labor Matters Conference a: CUNY, Brooklyn, in 2003- 

Diane Harriford and Becky Thompson 

"W. E, B. Du Bois, Historical Memory and the Lessons of Katrina" 

In late August 2:005? the world witnessed the devastation caused by Hurricane 
Katrina on the Louisiana coast and the Mississippi Delta — images of hundreds 
of people drowning, water obliterating entire neighborhoods. These images conjured 
up many other images of the Middle Passage, the mo nthslong journey that brought 
Africans to the Americas and to slavery. This paper shows how Katrina tapped into 
historical memory. Also examined is W. E, B. Du Boiss 1903 foundational concept of 
"double consciousness" and its relevance to illuminating connections between slavery 
and Katrina, Historically, this consciousness has tied black people ro rheir history and 
to one another, as well as providing a spiritual foundation that has been crucial in 
coping with socially induced trauma. Also identified are the ways that consumerism 



V)e Mind's Eye 91 



Contributors and Abstracts 

and individualism, contemporary soda] forces, have weakened double consciousness 
and compromised black solidarity and accountability in die face of social inequities. 
Looking further into the effects of Katrina, the authors explore historian Darlenc 
Clark Hine's concept of the "culture of dissemblance," the complicated ways that 
gender shapes blacks' responses to trauma and Gloria Anzalduas concept of "mestiza 
consciousness," a way to undetstand trauma from a muiriracial perspective. 

Diane Hartit'ord is Associate Professor of Sociology at Vassat College. For the past 
20 years she has been teaching sociology, women's studies and African-American 
studies while maintaining an active commitment to several social-justice movements- 
She is currently Director of Women's Studies at Vassar College and a former chair 
of the Sociology Department. Diane has spoken widely on women and the labor 
movement, on black women and sexuality, on black political formations and, most 
recently, on the rise of black conservatives in the Unired States. 

Becky Thompson is Associate Professor of Sociology and African-American Stud- 
ies at Simmons College. She has held academic appointments at Duke, Wesleyan, 
Princeron, Bowdoin and the University of Massachusetts. She has been an active 
speaker on antiracist activism, trauma and embodiment and multiracial alliance 
building nationally and internationally for the past 20 years. Her most recent book, 
A Promise and a Way of Life, is the first social history of contemporary white andra- 
cism in the United States. 

Their presentation is from a chaprer of rheit forthcoming text, When the Center Is on 
Fire: Passionate Social 'theory for Troubled Times, to be published by the University of 
Texas Ptess. 

David J. Langston 

"Transforming Space into Time: Narratives of Place in Tie Souls of Black Folk" 

Evoking a "spirit of place" has been a staple of human thinking for any society 
for which we have records; that is, using the names of geographical locations to 
function as a "title" for values, truths or stories around which a society constructs 
its social practices. Examples such as "Valley Forge," "Birmingham" or rhe "World 
Trade Centet" are conremporary instances. For older cultutcs, including the ancient 
Romans and the Apaches of the Southwest, places have reptesented tradirional values 
and/or wisdom or culrura] ideas. W. E. B. Du Bois's widely shared idea of "spirit of 
place" defines a spatial notion that intersects with "nartative," a temporal one, in his 
seminal wotk IheSouls of Black Folk, in that book, Du Bois develops the notion of 
place to include complex, ttansfotmative, historical events, such as education, vot- 
ing and social integration, not as symbols for permanent values but ones to which 



92 'Ihe Mind's Eye 



Contributors and Abstracts 

each place must bear witness so as to enable frccdmen's sons and daughters to be 
recognized on American soil 

David J. Langston teaches literature, film and critical theory at Massachusetts College 
of Liberal Arts, where he directs the Honors Program and also serves as chairperson 
of the Commonwealth Honors Program of Massachusetts. He has a long-standing 
professional inrerest in how space and time intersect, compete or complement each 
other in various representational tegimes. 

David Levering Lewis 

"The Invention of Place in the Du Boisian Canon" 

This paper was the keynote speech for the Shapi ng Role of Place in African-Ameri- 
can Biography conference on Septembet 16, 2006. Lewis sets the tone for the 
conference by talking about W. E. B, Du Bois and his construction of place during 
his lifetime. It focuses tin three importanr junctures in Du Bois's life — his childhood 
in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, his first reaching stint in Wilson County, Ten- 
nessee, in 1 886, and the second Pan African Congress in Brussels in 1921. 

David Levering Lewis is the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of 
History at New York University. He is the immediate past president of the Sociery 
of American Historians. His wotk reflecrs rhe mutual dependence of African and 
African-Ametican history, as well as the utility of biography in the exploration of 
American race, class and politics. He is the recipient of fellows h ips from the MacAr- 
thur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center 
and the Woodtow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and is a member of the 
Ametican Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Lewis is awinner of the Banctoft 
Ptize, the Parkman Prize and rhe Ralph Waldo F.merson Award. His two volumes 
on the life of W. E. B, Du Bois won the Pulitzer Prize, the only time in the his- 
tory of the award that both volumes of a biography have won. He received his 
Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, his M.A. from 
Columbia University and his B.A. from Fisk University. 

Khaliah Mangrnm 

'"Like Limbs from a Tree': Home and Homeland in Caryl Phillips' Crossing the 
River™ 

This paper is a cri rique of Caryl Phillips' Crossing the River, a novel that shows the 
distinction berween home and homeland and analyzes the politics of space. The 
novel is divided into thtee sections, each of which follows the journey of a charactet 
th tough a patticular place and a historical era. Phillips has wrirten about characters 



The Mind's Eye 93 



Contributors and Abstracts 

who have no voice and no power hy discussing the politics of .space, the physical 
reality on which all other life processes depend. For Phillips the tragedy begins when 
ones space becomes hatren, when "the crops fail," In essence, these crops are the 
descendants of the kidnapped Af ricans who have been ripped from their homeland 
and who often die spiritually or literally in a physical and social space that concocts 
poisons that uproot and destroy. 

Khaliah Mangrum is completing a masters program in English at California State 
University. She received her B.A. in English in 2001 from the University of California, 
Berkeley. Her thesis was titled "The Nature of Mothering in Colonial Communities 
as Seen Through the Work of Jamaica Kincaid." 

Dinah Mayo-Bobee 

"Searching for Ambrose: Genealogy, Biography and African-American Place in the 
Historical Narrative" 

Genealogical research establishes personal connections with the past, giving indi- 
viduals and families a sense of place and history. This paper examines the process 
of reconstructing personal histories and placing them in the context of significant 
historical events. Through the lives of Ambrose McCaskill ( 1 844—1920), a subsistence 
farmer born in antebellum South Carolina, and his descendants, this examination 
demonstrates how it is possible to construct African- American biographies within 
the historical narrative. In addition to describing research methodology, findings and 
available resources, the paper suggests ways to look at the forces that shaped the lives 
oFAfrican-Americans and to understand how these forces informed their responses to 
major events in American history. In its entirety, the exploration of Ambrose and his 
family across four generations underscores the importance of genealogical studies and 
how they contribute to histotical interpretation and our ever-expanding knowledge 
of African-American culture, place and contributions to history. 

Dinah Mayo-Bobee was awarded a Ph.D. in U.S. History from the Department 
of History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in May 2007. The title of 
her dissertation is "'.Something Energetic and Spirited': Massachusetts Federalists, 
Rational Politics, and Political Economy in the Age of Jefferson, 1805-1815." 
Other papers and publications include "William H. Seward" in the Encyclopedia of 
African American History, 1619—1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Fred- 
erick Douglass, edited by Paul Finkciman, Volume 3, New York: Oxford University 
Press, 2006; and "The Patriot: Historic Memory, Cinematic Interpretation, and the 
Historian's Critique," in Proceedings of the Center for the Study of the Korean War 4 
(July 2004): 139-60, 



94 The Mind's Eye 



Contributors and Absiracrs 

Nancy Ladd Muller 

"From the Particular to the General: Teaching the 'Race Concept' Through a Du 
Boisian Philosophical Lens" 

The pedagogy or restoration is admirable, and replacing African -American 5 on rhe 
social land scape of the American Republic is a historical imperative. However, 
is this enough? This paper poses the necessity of refraining this re re presentation us- 
ing "W! E. B. Du Bois's philosophical approaches to finding the truth, which in turn 
demonstrates the fallacy of the "race" concept. 

Nancy I .add Muller is a professor of sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal 
Arts and teaches in the Department of Journalism at the University of Massachusetts, 
Amherst, from which she received her Ph,D. The title of her dissertation was L 'W. 
E. B. Du Bois and the House of the Black Burghardrs: Land, Family, and African 
Americans in New England." Her current concentration is Africa and the African 
diaspora. 

Jan Voogd 

"The Life and Death of William Meadows: Local Government Documents as Sources 
for Biography" 

The role of place in shaping African -American biography can be a very direct 
one, This paper explores the murder of William Meadows, a former slave and 
a representative to Louisiana's Constitutional Convention in 1868, and the atten- 
tion the Louisiana General Assembly devoted to it. The year after the convention, 
Meadows was shot and killed at his home in front of his family. The details of the 
tragedy, including the eyewitness testimony of his wife, were captured in a state-gov- 
ernment publication at the time, published by the General Assembly of Louisiana. 
A committee investigating the conduct of the elections recorded information about 
Meadows' murder, thereby ensuring that the details became part of the public record. 
By exploring the story of William Meadows and the attention rhe Louisiana General 
Assembly devoted to it, this paper demonstrates the powerful role a particular place 
can have in the shaping of* African-American biography. 

Jan Voogd is Head of Collection Management tor the Social Sciences Program at 
the Harvard College Library, Harvard University. Among the many papers she has 
presented are ''Thousands of Negroes Leave Omaha: Race Relations in the U.S. 
West in the Red Summer of 1919" at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Western 
History Association, October 2004, in Las Vegas, and "Red Summer, 1919" at the 
International Conference on Lynching and Racial Violence: Histories and Legacies, 
October 2002, at Emory University. 



The Mind's Eye 95 



Mind's Eye 

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